Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s Flight Call?

The last day of November was sunny, bright, and chilly – and a good day for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Maybe they’re just easier to see now that most of the leaves on the trees are gone – though even now it’s not always that easy. Seeing one is like seeing a part of a tree come to life in the shape of a bird. The barred patterns on their wings, back and tail, in several subtle shades of black, white, gray and buff, blend in well with the muted colors of the season, and I always associate them with the fall and winter since that’s when we have them here. But in the right light, the black-and-white striping on the face, the crimson throat and head of a male, and even the warm yellow of the belly shine like brilliant accents against a winter background. And often they’ll give away their presence with a nasal, mewing call, or with their steady tapping on a trunk.

This afternoon I heard a funny call that I didn’t recognize – something like djeer-djeer-djeer-djeer, sort of a fast, rolling call – and it turned out to be a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was flying from one tree to another and calling as it flew. When it got to the second tree, it gave its more familiar mewing neeah before it started tapping on the trunk, and another Sapsucker nearby seemed to answer with the djeer-djeer call.

Of course, Sapsuckers (like most birds) have many more vocalizations than the ones most of us are familiar with, and this one was new for me. After looking it up in several sources, I think it was probably the call The Sibley Guide to Birds describes as one sometimes given in flight.


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