Red-breasted Sapsucker

February 2nd, 2019: You never know what you’ll find in a city park…

…on a random walk to stretch your legs before my flight. Today, it was a Red-breasted Sapsucker: a bird you could go most of the year in Vancouver without running across, even if you went looking.

Red-breasted Sapsucker bringing an insect to its young in Minnekhada Region Park

There are a few places I’ve found pretty reliable for Red-breasted Sapsucker in Vancouver: Minnekhada Regional Park (as pictured above), Lighthouse Park on the north shore, Shoreline Park in Port Moody (but not at this year’s Christmas Bird Count), and the north side of Lost Lagoon at Stanley Park, for example.

But I didn’t expect to run into one in the 2×2-block Douglas Park. A Red-breasted Nuthatch first caught my ear, mostly because I somehow had not yet heard one in 2019. I thought I’d do a quick eBird list and had a listen in the area since I was without my bins. Crows and a proud Anna’s Hummingbird were the noisiest denizens, but just as I was about to close out the list I heard a few loud pecks. Too strong and deliberate for a Downy Woodpecker, and Hairies are relatively uncommon outside of denser forest outside the city. I thought initially that it might be a Sapsucker, but there are only about 4 trees that would serve…

Red-breasted Sapsucker bringing eggs to its young

I walked until I was looking straight up the trunk where I thought I’d heard the sound and sure enough about 50 feet up, a splotchy black-and-white bird sidled slowly across the trunk, tail posted against the bark. I thought it was digging too deliberately to be another species, but I walked to a few different vantages until I could make out the head. It was dark and distant, but clearly all red, allowing me to safely eliminate the unlikely (but possible) Red-naped or Red-napedXRed-breasted Sapsucker hybrids that show up occasionally.

What a nice surprise on my last day in Vancouver for a while: I’m heading back to Minnesota in a couple of hours and looking forward to some winter birding at Sax-Zim Bog soon!

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