My First Look At The Red-naped Sapsucker Chick

It was so much fun to finally actually see this youngster!

I’ve been watching a Red-naped Sapsucker nest cavity since the first day of my camping trip (for reasons I’ll explain later I’m convinced there’s only one chick in the nest). For the first two days I never saw the chick because the adults would stick their heads into the cavity to feed it. On the third day the youngster was mature and aggressive enough that I could occasionally see its bill sticking out of the nest entrance.

But two days ago I finally got a good look at the youngster’s head.


1/6400, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

In a couple of hours off watching as the adults repeatedly (every 5-10 minutes or so) brought food to the chick this was only the second time the youngster’s head came far enough out of the hole to see its head.

The chick is extremely aggressive in its attempts to grab the food (usually ants or yellow grubs of some kind) from the adult and I believe that the adult was surprised that this time the chick came so far out of the hole to get the food. In fact it even seemed to be annoyed or even angered because…



1/ 6400, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

the adult pulled away from the chick without giving it any food (ants inside the bill that can’t be seen)…



1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

and immediately flew away, squawking angrily all the way.

In each of the previous feeding trips over many days the adults always (without a single exception) had flown straight up on the tree after delivering the food. But this time the adult flew off laterally, landed in a tree right in front of my pickup, and continued to squawk in apparent anger. I can only presume it was either surprised at the aggressive chick unexpectedly sticking its head so far out of the hole or perhaps the youngster poked the adults eye with its bill. I don’t really know what happened but it’s interesting to speculate.

One more thing of interest. The incessant begging calls from the chick inside the cavity are nothing short of impressive. I estimate that the chick calls about 2.5 times per second and it never, ever ceases. I can only assume it goes on all day long. In many, many hours I’ve only noticed a few pauses lasting for 3-5 seconds. The energy required to keep that up must almost equal that provided by the food it gets from the adults…?

And not once have any of the calls from inside the cavity sounded like there’s more than one chick in the nest. And I’ve only seen one head and/or bill poking out of the opening at a time, even though clutch size of this species is usually 3-7 eggs.

I can hardly wait to see what develops at the nest cavity today.




23 comments to My First Look At The Red-naped Sapsucker Chick

  • Fran

    The chick looks bigger than the adult. Certain this is their offspring?

    • Yes, I’m certain, Fran. Young birds of this age of many many species are often significantly larger than their parents (though in this case I doubt the youngster is actually larger than the adult…).

  • Alice Beckcom

    What a great series of photos. Looks like you got more than you ever expected from the parent’s reaction to the aggressive chick!!

    I can understand why the parent flew away without feeding the chick.

    I must say that I have wondered in past postings how the parents could always be so dedicated to the young chicks. It is good to see another ‘side of the story’.

    I have often wondered how the parents could so tirelessly feed the chicks. Parenting is challenging for birds and humans, as well.

    Thank you, Ron. [Enjoy your reprieve from the heat – 95 today and 95 tomorrow….with no cool down in sight]. Our air conditioner ‘broke’ last Saturday night and we’re having a new one installed tomorrow…..certainly wonder what people who have no air conditioning handle it.

    • Laura Culley

      Overall, it’s never a good thing to reward bad behavior! You only reward that behavior you want to see repeated 🙂

  • Will you PLEASE be patient. I told you I would be back in a minute, and here I am. But no, you just had to come out and complain…

    It really is a wonder that so many children (regardless of the species) survive. Predators and alienating their parents. Consistently. Persistently.

  • April Olson

    A chick that calls more than grebe chicks? I did not think that was possible.

    • April, Yes, this chick DID call even more than grebe chicks do. Before I witnessed it I’d have thought such a performance was physically impossible over such a long period of time!

  • Chris Sanborn

    Another great series of images, Ron! That chick just really wanted you to feast your eyes (and focus your lens) on it, parent be damned. 😁 I can understand your delight!

  • Educational and fun! 😀 I am amused at the parent NOT feeding the chick.

  • Laura Culley

    KIDS! Sometimes they get on our very last nerve! Overall, it’s probably a good thing that they’re cute so we choose to keep them alive! 🙂
    Odd that there’s only one (with that only-child syndrome). Wonder if they had others and something happened in the nest? We’ll never know.
    Great shots to begin my morning! I’m just thankful to have Internet service today. DARGH! Rural living has its challenges as I’m sure you’re aware in your remote location.

  • Marty K

    What a hilarious series! I mean, for us. For the parent, not so much. I’m imagining all sorts of dialogue between these two. 😀

    Love the takeoff shot — I don’t recall seeing many in which the wings aren’t extended at least a little bit.

  • Susan Stone

    How fascinating to see the way this adult reacted to the aggressive chick! I don’t think I expected that a bird parent would ever have such a negative reaction to its chick. This seems to be on a whole other level from when Grebe’s dump their chicks into the water. I hope you’ll keep us updated on what happens with this nest.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I find the second shot pretty funny…with the surprised-looking parent lesnung away from that very aggressive-looking youngster…

    • Patty Chadwick

      Damned IPad!!! Yes, I do know how to spell “leaning”…Yes, I do check spelling! I click send…and the evil one does its thing!!!

  • “You’ll poke my eye out, kid!” Great series. Thanks!

  • Joanne OBrien

    Thank you for another great group of photos! I especially like the middle one with the adult pulling back in surprise!

  • Judy Gusick

    Interesting! Something pissed the adult off for sure! Begging young can get REAL annoying for more than the parents. Sounds like a good trip so far. 🙂

  • Robert (RJ) Davis

    That chick is just thrumming with energy! I love that lateral take-off of the parent! The sheer physical confidence of birds always amazes me.

  • Dominique Gusset

    Haha! very comical series, my morning laugh. Thank you Ron!

  • LS Clemens

    In my East Coast neighborhood We have nesting Blue Jays. They make a huge racket that can be heard 2 streets over, for hours at a time. LOVE your photos & comments!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Sensational behavioral series Ron! Very impressive!