Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

January 11, 2013

Some of you might remember how excited I was to photograph an immature yellow-bellied sapsucker last year. I captured the image right here on the farm as the busy little woodpecker gorged on cedar berries. I remember telling my friends and colleagues that I hoped to photograph a mature male someday for an article in “Missouri Conservationist.” Fast forward one year to New Year’s Day morning at Shaw Nature Reserve where I recently photographed my second ever yellow-bellied sapsucker, this time a striking male as it was enjoying a breakfast of tasty persimmon pulp.

I had been trying to photograph the bird earlier as it was being harassed by a red-bellied woodpecker. Just as I was becoming frustrated, the sapsucker flew into a persimmon tree about 100 meters away. I ran through the woods until I neared the persimmon and then began walking slowly, trying to imitate a disinterested hiker. I couldn’t believe it as I approached closer and closer to the tree and the sapsucker continued extracting the sweet persimmon flesh. The persimmons were not only juicy, they were icy as it was 18 degrees F. I knew it would be a challenge to capture a decent image of the dynamically-colored sapsucker against the overcast, whitish-gray winter sky. A normal exposure would result in a “sapsucker silhouette.” I started by overexposing a full stop and by the time I was finished I had compensated by + 1 2/3 stops. As the gray sky became whiter with every click of positive exposure compensation, the details of the bird finally materialized on my LCD. I had the image I was looking for.

According to “Birds of Missouri” by Brad Jacobs, the yellow-bellied sapsucker is an uncommon migrant that is considered rare in winter, south of the Missouri River, and absent north of the river. The male and female are similar in appearance but the male has a red chin and the female’s is white. Both have pale yellow flanks and belly, hence the name. Based on my two experiences, yellow-bellied sapsuckers seem to be loners. Perhaps this is because other woodpeckers such as the red-headed woodpecker and red-bellied woodpecker are bullies so the little sapsuckers just try to mind their own business.

As I traipsed the snow covered landscape of Shaw Nature Reserve on New Year’s morning, photographing woodpeckers, songbirds and squirrels, I kept saying, literally out loud but in a soft voice so as not to disturb my friends of the forest, “God I love it out here with these critters.” I can’t imagine how I could ever grow tired of photographing Missouri’s diverse wildlife and natural beauty.

Thanks for Looking!


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens; Canon 1.4 TC II; 1/1600 sec @ f/5.6; ISO 400; Aperture Priority; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Carbon Fiber Tripod with Full Wimberley II; Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (Canon DPP)


Find more images at my Website Gallery and read my story about the Yellow-rumped Warbler in the January, 2013 Missouri Conservationist.

15 comments on “Yellow-bellied Sapsucker”

  1. Awesome photo and story Danny. I appreciate the prayer at the end.



  2. Amazing photo and such an interesting story to go along with it! Love reading your posts, Danny

    Chris Stuckenschneider Book Editor, Book Buzz Coordinator The Missourian 14 W. Main St. Washington, MO 63090 Cell, 314-808-1807

    • Thanks Chris. I pulled over to photograph a cute mule today that I know you would have loved but the sun wasn’t right so I passed on it.

  3. AWESOME!!!!

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE DROID

  4. My sentiments exactly, Danny. I can’t imagine not being able to get outdoors and enjoying Missouri’s wildlife and natural beauty. Great shot! Love the photo and the story!

    • …..and we’ll both continue to share those sentiments with others at the risk of being too nature pushy! Smile.

  5. This is such a Great shot. Love the colors of the bird and the persimmons against the white sky. You have done it again my friend.

    • Thanks Mike….I hope you screech owl is sticking around. We had a gray ghost cruising the field behind our house today but I was out chasing trumpeter swans. Also 16 turkeys in the backyard!

  6. Hi Danny, I just returned from Atlanta, GA. I loved seeing that beautiful shot of the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. You must have been right on top of him. The detail is magnificent. I also know what you mean, about being out in nature. I too can’t get enough either. Keep up the good work. Buy the way, I had a visit this morning, buy a young Bared Owl, perched in the Oak tree. What a site to see. Have a good week. I am off for Dallas, TX.


  7. It is wonderful to love what you do and you are so wonderful at it…beautiful picture Danny…your pictures are always perfection and you comments are flawless…keep up the great work and start working on that book I want to see…love you…

  8. Exquisite picture of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Danny. We have one that comes to our suet feeder fairly regularly, but I prefer shots taken in a more natural setting. It is great to see good photographs combined with informative text.

    • Nice to hear from you Jo Ann. I agree that the best shots always come from natural settings. We have so many bluebirds at our farm but they are always drinking on the deck railing, etc., so I just enjoy them instead of trying to photograph them. Take care.

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