Ft. Mason - Two rubers?

Richard Bradus

Or intergrades??

Late this morning (Feb. 25) at Fort Mason while straining to find the Baltimore Oriole - which was eventually sighted - the appearance of two Red-breasted Sapsuckers at the same time raised some interesting questions.

The confiding bird identified by many as of the ruber subspecies was easily and repeatedly seen in the usual spot working its sap wells in a pittosporum near the tennis courts. It shows extensive red on the breast with a bit of yellowish coloration below. However, I am puzzled by the back, as the parallel rows of spots appear rather prominent and clearly whitish to me, not narrow and yellowish as is generally described in the guides. At the same time, another Red-breasted was seen working one of the large eucs at the south lawn near the General's House. This bird also showed an essentially all red head with red extending well down on the breast. I was unable to get a good long look at the back of this bird, but it also appeared to have whitish spots (though less prominent than on the first bird). And, yes, there were definitely two different birds as multiple observers saw them in the two locations at the same time.

So, do we have two different ruber subspecies Red-breasted at Fort Mason? Is the back pattern consistent with or within the range of variation expected for this subspecies? Or are these birds actually not "pure" representatives of the subspecies? - bearing in mind the common interbreeding and variation seen among both Red-breasted and Red-naped in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere, I would not be surprised by various degrees of "intergrade" individuals.

Any opinions or clarification would be welcome.

BTW, the Red Bishop also continues in the Community Garden although the feeder in the center of the garden has been taken down (presumably to prevent the plague affecting siskins and the like).

Keeping an open mind,
Richard Bradus
San Francisco

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