Unlike everybody else I know, I keep managing to miss the apparent Red-breasted Sapsucker at McCormick Park, just around the corner from the WINGS office. Yesterday’s attempt turned up this bird instead.
At first glance, I suppose, just your standard breathtakingly beautiful Red-naped Sapsucker, like any other of the dozens and hundreds in the Sonoran Desert this time of year.
But the red on the lower breast and throat is awfully extensive, and the black behind the eye is smudged with bright red “cockades.” Interestingly enough, big Sibley shows such patches in the illustration of male Red-naped Sapsucker, but the hybrid index in Johnson and Johnson’s “Speciation II” doesn’t seem to show any auricular red until you get down (or up, depending on what you’re hoping for!) to Category 7, almost halfway between “typical” Red-naped and “typical” Red-breasted.
Taking the view from eternity, it doesn’t much matter whether this fine bird is “pure” or not, but he does offer the reminder that things and their labels don’t always perfectly match up. Is he an erythristic Red-naped, a melanistic Red-breasted, a hybrid, an introgressant? Watch this video and see whether you really care.