Williamson’s Sapsucker

© Grace Huffman

by Grace Huffman

Last month I spent a few days in the panhandle. It was a wonderful time, and I added over 25 species to my life list! I had a tough time narrowing down which species to write about this month, but I finally decided on one of the least expected birds of the trip: Williamson’s Sapsucker. 

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. They’re bigger than Downy Woodpeckers, and are patterned with black, white, yellow, and red.They spend their winters here in the state drilling rows of small little holes while they forage for sap. I see them at places like Stinchcomb and Lake Hefner, and the occasional one in my backyard (I have a tree with many sapsucker rows in it).

Williamson’s Sapsucker is a much less common relative of the Yellow-bellied. Slightly larger, males are striking, being mostly black with a large white wing patch and white stripes on the face, a red throat, and yellow on the belly. Females are less vibrantly colored, with a brown face and dark wings and back.

Typically they breed in many western states, and migrate to places like southern Arizona and New Mexico, with some patchy areas where they live year-round. They nest primarily in forests of Ponderosa Pines, but after breeding they will wander to other habitats and lower elevations. 

This male must have been done breeding, because he was quite a ways from where he should have been! We spotted him right in the town of Kenton, and our president Hal Yocum was very quick with the ID. The sapsucker was very hard to photograph as he didn’t like to stay still, but at least he hung around long enough for a couple more birders to get a good look at him, and he was spotted again a couple of days after I got back home. Williamson’s Sapsuckers are very rarely recorded here in Oklahoma, so I feel very blessed to have seen this one and for it to be my first one ever!