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Identifying Williamson’s Sapsucker

Williamson’s Sapsucker, adult female. June in Weber County, Utah. Photo by Brian E. Small

Many kinds of wildlife will sample the sweet taste of tree sap when it’s easily available. Various woodpeckers will occasionally drill into bark to get access to the sap. But the four species of sapsuckers of North America are unique in their degree of specialization on this resource, regularly drilling rows of “sap wells” in trees and then returning to sip the sticky treat as it oozes out.

Three of the sapsuckers — Yellow-bellied, Red-naped, and Red-breasted — are common and widespread, collectively found from coast to coast. They are very close relatives, differing mainly in the amount of red on the head, and they were formerly lumped into one species. But the fourth, Williamson’s Sapsucker, is highly distinctive. A specialty of western mountains, it is uncommon and elusive, a prize for birders.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media