A Red-breasted Sapsucker Drilling Sap Wells

by Larry Jordan on January 7, 2013

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber daggetti) by Larry Jordan

It’s really important to learn bird behavior if you want to get good bird photographs (click on photos for full sized images).

I saw a post on Facebook the other day questioning “whether you can be a “birder” with a camera rather than with binoculars.” There were some pretty interesting remarks to this question and, at the time, I didn’t have time to put in my two cents but I do have an opinion on that question.

I use both! I consider myself a birder just because I watch birds and I guess I can call myself a photographer because I photograph them.

I’m not a professional photographer. There aren’t many of those around that make a living with photography, any more than there are professional birders that make a living “birding.”

To me, these are just labels. There are folks out there that must put a label on everything to make their life orderly. I am not one of those people.

I believe that what’s important is behavior. Whether we call ourselves birders, bird watchers, photographers, environmentalists, conservationists or all of the above, the important thing is what we DO about our passion for birds.

As I stated in the opening sentence of this post, “It’s really important to learn bird behavior if you want to get good bird photographs.” As a bird photographer, I watch a lot of bird behavior. I may spend an hour or more (as I did with this Red-breasted Sapsucker) watching a particular bird, learning its habits and movements.

This bird was working lower on this tree the day I found it. You can see the numerous rows of sap wells that have been drilled into the bark of this oak tree.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

I learned a couple of years ago that Red-breasted Sapsuckers guard their sap wells. Knowing this bird’s behavior allowed me to return to this tree the next morning when there was better light, and get these photos.

The first day I saw this bird, it was feeding out of the sap wells at the bottom of the photo above. The next day, it opened up an old row of wells a couple of feet above those.

This is where s/he began chipping away the bark of the old sap wells on this morning.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

About a half hour later, almost an entire row of sap wells had been reopened and the sapsucker was feeding out of them.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

And a bit further along…

Red-breasted Sapsucker

feeding from the newly opened wells.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Moving from right to left…

Red-breasted Sapsucker

and pausing before going back to the other end.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

When you take the time to learn bird behavior, you have more opportunity to see more birds and achieve better photographs. It is important to know what different species eat, where they nest, what type of habitat they prefer and if they migrate or not. After watching birds for awhile, you will know when they are feeling stressed and when they are comfortable with your presence.

Whether you consider yourself a “birder” a “bird watcher” a “photographer” or all of the above, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you enjoy birds. Hopefully that leads all of us down the same path of protecting birds and their environment, which also happens to be our environment too.

In the coming months we will be promoting the creation of a new “Federal Wildlife Conservation Stamp” to increase much needed revenue for our National Wildlife Refuge System. What we envision is an alternative to the “Duck Stamp” for non-consumptive users of the refuge system which will be sold as an entrance pass to all national wildlife refuges.

We hope all birders, bird watchers, wildlife photographers, environmentalists, conservationists, hikers, and well meaning citizens will get behind this movement to create an additional income stream for our National Wildlife Refuge System. We are working on a website to promote the new stamp and will update everyone as the time for action approaches.

Remember, it’s not what we call ourselves, it’s our behavior that makes the difference in the way we shape our future. It’s what we DO with our passion for birds that counts.

If you have a passion for birds, birding and bird photography, check out The Bird D’pot and WIld Bird Wednesday!

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Stewart M January 8, 2013 at 3:02 am

Hi there – I think a lot of people get tied up in labels – you can’t be a birder unless ……. you can be a photographer unless ………

I have to say I think its all bull. Anybody who kicks a ball is a footballer of some sort – its just some footballers are better than others, but they are all footballers. Same goes for birders and photographers! There I got that off my chest!

Great birds! Stewart M


Larry January 8, 2013 at 6:27 am

@Stewart I couldn’t agree more!


Mama Zen January 8, 2013 at 7:10 am

I agree with Stewart!


Mia McPherson January 8, 2013 at 7:33 am

I photograph, watch and have an endless passion for birds. I am a bird lover.

I agree 100% with you about how observing and learning bird behavior is a way to improve bird photography. I’ve known people who photograph birds that don’t even know what family the birds fall under or the birds name let alone any of their behaviors. For them I think it is more about the photo than a passion for their subjects.

I love this series Larry!


Karen January 8, 2013 at 8:06 am

Birder or photographer or both…these are great captures!!


TexWisGirl January 8, 2013 at 8:07 am

the drilling is impressive! love his blood-red head and chest. such a beauty!


HansHB January 8, 2013 at 8:14 am

Awesome serie of photos!


Carletta January 8, 2013 at 9:06 am

I enjoyed this post Larry. I would never have considered myself a birder before WBW drew me in. I don’t travel to watch them or make lists of those I’ve seen but I enjoy them nevertheless and fit somewhere in this community of bird lovers. I for one think it’s enjoyable to watch their habits. Many days they make me smile.
You got some impressive shots as well as a terrific video!


Modesto Viegas January 8, 2013 at 9:53 am

Great post!!!


Gail January 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

This is a wonderful post! I love birds and photograph them–call me what you will. 🙂 Doing both has taught me to slow down and watch carefully to get the kind of behavior I want to capture. Your images of this bird are spectacular! Truly.


Mick January 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

Interesting thoughts in your post – thanks! I just enjoy watching birds! Great photos showing the bird’s behavior.


Boom & Gary January 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Great close ups!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.


Eileen January 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Larry, wonderful sighting of the Sapsucker. It is a beautiful bird. Love the red coloring. Great post!


Pam January 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm

This is the first time I’ve seen a Red-breasted Sapsucker up close. Your video shows how well it blends in with the tree except for its colorful red head.
Great series of shots, Larry. Loved the video!


Pam January 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Thanks for the correction of the heron. You were right its a Greenie 🙂


islandrambles January 9, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Hi Larry, thanks for your comments on my blog. I really enjoyed this whole blog and I watched about the owls and also the video on the sapsucker. That is some zoom lens on the camera. I also have noticed the labels of birder and photographer. It does not matter to me but there are some very serious birders …they don’t like the cameras. And there are some photographers that do not give wildlife space. We all love birds!!


Marlo January 9, 2013 at 7:37 pm

If you don’t observe bird behavior (or any other critter for that matter) you’ve really missed out on the most fasinating part of nature!


Mary Howell Cromer January 10, 2013 at 6:06 am

Hmm…well first there are the birds, and the nature that surrounds them and there is all of the wildlife in between. Then we come along with these things hanging off of our bodies and we enjoy said elements and subject so much, that we desire holding them more closely in our memory banks, and so we photograph them. That would make us bird loving, nature and wildlife loving, photographic memory keepers;’) Whew there;’) Made me feel better! I think this Sapsucker is glorious in colour. Love their gentle ways and how they drills those little sap giving holes~


Connie Smiley January 10, 2013 at 9:44 am

Great writing and photos, Larry. I love your video, too.


Jen January 13, 2013 at 7:33 pm

I think some people argue just for the sake of arguing. If you watch birds, you’re a birdwatcher. What does it matter the equipment, if any, that you use?


Hilke Breder January 14, 2013 at 5:21 am

Interesting post, Larry. I consider myself both a birder and bird photographer but when it comes down to the wire photographer wins out. I stay with a bird much longer, my heart beats faster and I am getting that adrenaline rush when I have my camera with me. Neat post and pictures of the sapsucker! We had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker regularly visiting a mountain ash in our backyard, damaging it so much that we finally took it down. If interested here’s a link to my post on woodpecker damage: tinyurl.com/cdnxohq


Dawn January 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

I agree completely..it is the enjoyment..I don’t care what you know or if you can put a name to a bird…what matters more is that you enjoy and appreciate birds!

Thanks for the great sapsucker photos and info! A pleasure


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