Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
Photograph © Scott Jackson-Ricketts

I have been hearing yellow-bellied sapsuckers for some time this fall. They are beautiful little woodpeckers. The sapsucker nests predominantly in Canada, but also south of the Great Lakes and in New England south along the Appalachians to West Virginia. In the winter it is common in Virginia and the Southeast where it drills its characteristic ring of holes around the trunks and larger branches of trees. Large tulip poplar trees must have good sap: the sapsucker will drill a ring of holes through very thick bark of this tree. These holes do not ordinarily damage the tree but I have seen non-native trees such as the Japanese Snowbell and Japanese Black Pine damaged. The sapsucker has a substance in its saliva that keeps the sap of the tree from coagulating so that it (and other birds) can return again and again for a meal.

Most woodpeckers eat predominantly or entirely insects. Flickers and sapsuckers are the exception. Sapsuckers not only eat the sap, but also insects that are attracted to the sap. The protein content of insects is important in their diet.

The sapsucker has a very distinctive call, at times it almost sounds like a kitten. Once you learn it, you will hear it in our woods in the fall, winter and spring.

To hear the call of the sapsucker go to:
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-bellied_Sapsucker/sounds
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has wonderful on-line information about birds. Their site “All About Birds” is the easiest to use.

By Dorothy Tompkins — Master Naturalist and Bundoran Farm Steward