Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sapsucker in Black & White

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Blending in to the birch trunk was a young female yellow-bellied sapsucker.

On a recent winter's afternoon, The Zick and I were standing in her studio looking out at the feeding station. I was telling her about the pine warbler that had visited the day before, while she was out of town. Just then a woodpecker hitched around the side of the mostly dead birch tree just a few feet from the studio window.

It was a very young female yellow-bellied sapsucker and she was striking for her utter lack of color. Her plumage was composed of black, white, and grayish feathers with almost no sign of a sapsucker's telltale head or throat coloration. There was only the slightest hint of a yellow wash across her breast, but you had to strain your eyes to see it.

The gray winter day, the duotone tree and bird, all made for a pleasingly limited palette.

The female sapsucker had very little color on her.

As we were enjoying her, the pine warbler slipped in to the feeder, grabbed a sunflower heart and headed off to the woods. And this turned out to be a wise move...

Suddenly the feeder birds scattered and the sapsucker whipped around the back of the birch trunk in a flash. A blue-gray missile came shooting past the window—the adult male sharp-shinned hawk we'd had around all winter. The sharpie flew straight toward the sapsucker, banking sharply to swoop around the trunk just inches from the sapsucker. The accipiter missed the sapsucker, and did what most bird-eating hawks do near feeding stations: perched nearby to wait for things to calm down and for an unsuspecting songbird to move.

We were astonished at how fast this all happened—in just seconds. But we dared not move lest we scare the sharpie, or worst, scare the sapsucker into moving and giving the sharpie another shot. The sharpie stared holes in the birch trunk. The sapsucker held fast and motionless on the back side of the trunk, one eye peeking at us as if to say "Please don't tell him that I'm here. I'm just a boring old stub of a tree branch on this boring old birch. Pay me no mind."

The hiding female sapsucker held tight and motionless to the birch trunk.

Soon the hawk tired of waiting and moved off into the woods, no doubt looking for less wary victims.

For us it was high-five time.
Male sharp-shinned hawk waiting out the sapsucker.


On April 16, 2008 at 8:15 PM NCmountainwoman said...

Great pictures and wonderful post. I'm so glad the sapsucker stayed put and out of harm's way. We have a Sharpie that hangs around occasionally, sitting on top of one of the birdfeeder posts as if he thinks he is invisible. Or, perhaps he thinks we have some really stupid birds.

We're following your suggestion (from last year) of putting out hair for the birds. You wouldn't believe how much Golden Retriever hair is lining the nests of so many birds around here.

On April 16, 2008 at 11:07 PM Texas Travelers said...

That was a tense, breath-taking story full of excitement and anticipation.

Seriously, it was a great tale and it was a lucky thing that sapsucker had her cammo outfit on.

Nice job and great photos.

On April 17, 2008 at 6:30 AM Jayne said...

Boy, her camouflage really paid off for her didn't it? I can just see the two of you holding your breath at the window!

On April 17, 2008 at 3:58 PM Owlman said...

Awesome stand off story Bill!