Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Hey guys, welcome back! The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Can you get a more stereotypical bird name than that? I mean it sounds like a made up bird that someone that doesn’t know anything about birds would come up with! But it is, in fact, a real bird. It’s one of a number of species of sapsucker, but the only one found in the Eastern U.S. Actually, it is the only eastern woodpecker species to be completely migratory, spending its summers in Canada and New England, and it’s winters in the southern half of the country, east of the Rockies.

yellow-bellied sapsucker2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Central Park, NY

All woodpeckers peck, but not all do it for the same reason. Growing up, I learned that woodpeckers pecked at trees to eat insects and larvae that live in and on the bark of a tree. This is true of some woodpecker species. Others, though, like the Northern Flicker, only peck at trees to hollow out nests. Sapsuckers do it to…. you guessed right, suck sap! Their diet is made up almost exclusively of the sap of trees. And the way they do it is very cool. They go around the tree, creating sap wells, in an almost perfectly horizontal row, then go down (or up), right below the row they just did and do it again. If you come across a tree that has a nearly perfect pattern of lined-up holes, chances are, a sapsucker has been there. There was (maybe still is) a tree in the North Woods of Central Park that was so full of these sap wells that a coworker of mine said it looked almost as if the tree itself had been pixelated. And he wasn’t far off!

I always thought of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as a sort of drab looking woodpecker. I mean the “yellow belly” is barely visible, and is more of an off-white anyway, and they didn’t have much going on color-wise. Then I saw one in breeding plumage and realized that I had only ever seen them in their drab winter plumage! What a dope I was haha! They actually can be quite striking, especially the male with their bright red head and throat! Even the so-called yellow belly is more prominent in breeding birds. I’ve only seen one here in St. Louis so far, but like the Dark-eyed Junco, it’s just not winter to me without sapsuckers around! Join me next time when we talk about one of the most common birds in the U.S. See you all then!

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