Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
6 Nov 2016, 8:10 PM,
#1
Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
A handful of us encountered two apparently hybrid sapsuckers (RBxRN) in the Prescott area today. I managed to get decent photographs of the first, which are attached, but not the second, which looked quite like the first. In any case, the consensus was we would love to hear from others with experience identifying birds like these.

Thanks!

Felipe Guerrero


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7 Nov 2016, 6:54 PM,
#2
RE: Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
Hi Felipe, I'm not an expert by any means, but looking at my field guide I would have called it a RBSA. What are you seeing that makes you think it's a hybrid? Great bird either way! Tom
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7 Nov 2016, 8:54 PM,
#3
RE: Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
Here's some info on hybrid sapsuckers:

http://www.paradisebirding.com/Paradise%...ybrids.pdf

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files...-p0884.pdf

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files...-p0015.pdf



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8 Nov 2016, 6:48 PM,
#4
RE: Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
The bird we saw at Banning Creek was just like the one pictured in Felipe's first photo.

The bit of black above the eye, and the narrow stripe of black above the white stripe from the bill towards the back of the neck are my hesitation for calling this Red-breasted rather than a hybrid. Do those bits of black eliminate a "southern" Red-breasted? I read through Chuck LaRue's links, but I'm still unsure.
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8 Nov 2016, 8:36 PM,
#5
RE: Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
Here are a couple snippets from Kenn Kaufman's "Advanced Birding" (1990) that might or might not help:
"...in the Southern race of RBSA... the red of the head is invaded by a fair amount of white and black. Observers are sometimes confused by birds of this race, supposing them to represent some sort of hybrid."

referring to the northern race of RBSA (ruber) crossed with RNSA or YBSA: "The best distinction is chest pattern: the hybrids should always show a lot of black there;"
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10 Nov 2016, 8:13 AM,
#6
RE: Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
The fact that Felipe saw two very similar birds miles apart on the same day can change this discussion because it allows us to apply Occam's Razor.

The first question is did Felipe see two birds or one? I saw the second bird, but only saw the image of the first on a phone (and now on here). But the idea that the same bird could travel miles to the exact location Felipe would be a few hours later seems highly improbable.

So if we assume it is two birds and that those two are hybrids of two species, it seems the most likely scenario is that these birds are from the same brood. Yet, that it also seems highly improbable that Felipe would see those two birds on the same day—although more probable than it being the same bird. Even more improbable is that they are from different broods of the same two parents looking similar enough for Felipe to question them. Even more unlikely is that two sets of parents interbreeding had similar looking offspring.

All the scenarios involving hybrids of two species, while not impossible seem highly improbable.

However, if we assume that the two birds are hybrids of intra-species gene pools, the odds of Felipe seeing two birds the same day in crease exponentially. The fact is that we already have designated gene pools North and South varieties. No doubt, the varieties became distinct as a result of environmental pressures, etc. It is possible then that other environmental pressures are bringing the separate varieties back together again and result is the intra-species hybrid is the product. So instead of having a couple of similar looking birds, we may have a few dozen of similar looking birds.

It is also likely that these birds would migrate through the same general area at the same time, making it much more likely for Felipe to have seen two similar birds.

Chip
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12 Dec 2016, 5:20 AM,
#7
RE: Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
Here's a reply from Steve Shunk, author of the recently published "Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America" and one of the articles Chuck cited. Looks like it's all cleared up!

Greetings, All,

Your bird is right on the edge of what I might call a RB x RN hybrid. The plumage in the throat and chest is a little funky, so it's hard to say from these images alone. Considering the boldness of the facial striping and minimal red in the face: if there are solid black feathers showing through in the chest, it's a likely hybrid. Many southern RBSA have a "hidden" black breast-shield formed by feathers of the upper breast that have black bases and red tips. Because of the wear that occurs in breeding season, ID becomes more challenging then. Your bird should already be through its complete basic molt, but I can't quite tell about the breast with that throat puffed out. The rest of the plumage seems pretty fresh, but again, that's hard to tell from just these images. Other than the strongly RN-type face, I don't see any other indications of RN parentage.

Your location is perfect for migration of birds that breed in the small RB/RN contact zone in the SE Sierra Nevada and White Mtns. I would guess that these birds are the source of many of your state's RBSA/hybrid records. Though RBSA are generally not migratory, Prescott is close enough to this contact zone that a wandering "pure" RBSA is possible. But, because it's a contact zone, it may be equally likely that you could see a RB x RN hybrid. Welcome to my world!

I am probably getting more non-committal about these birds the more of them I see. They hybridize freely along the eastern slopes of the Cascades in OR and WA and to a lesser extent in the E Sierra Nevada. Many of the hybrids and nearly all of the RNSA migrate southward in winter. These 2 species are super closely related. I still support the science behind the current taxonomy, but the genetic situation makes field ID for birders problematic.

I would lean toward a hybrid with this bird, but if I were doing a CBC and only had these photos, I would probably list it as a RN/RB-type Sapsucker (I call these "reddish" sapsuckers Smile.
Thanks for sharing!
Steve
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7 Jan 2017, 1:07 PM,
#8
RE: Hybrid Sapsuckers, Prescott
The Reddish Sapsucker continues at Granite Basin Lake, as does a Pacific Wren. Other highlights included Williamson's Sapsuckers and Townsend's Solitaires.

Felipe Guerrero


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