YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (sphyrapicus varius)
The Yellow-bellied sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker, which migrates from PEI in the winter. Sexes are similar except for the throat, which is red for males and white for females. This bird’s call sounds like a cat meowing.
This woodpecker has a particular way of feeding itself, as its name implies. It will bore horizontal rows of holes – sapwells – in trees to attract insects that get glued in the sap. The bird will also feed on the sap and part of the wood inside the holes. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers prefer trees with sap that contains a higher sugar content such as maples and birches. The holes have to be maintained to generate sap, so this bird can be found near its food source for a good part of the day.
A positive impact of this feeding behavior : it attracts the ruby-throated hummingbird, which feeds on nectar (and sweet sap too if given the opportunity). A negative impact : if the bird girdles the tree, the part above will die. ‘Girdling’ happens when an animal (such as a meadow vole gnawing the bark or the yellow-bellied sapsucker boring holes in rows) completely encircles a tree trunk with ‘injuries’.
The photo below shows a tree trunk with holes, possibly from this yellow-billed sapsucker ‘guarding’ its food source. It sits on a piece of plywood attached to the tree, and repeatedly drummed on it as per photographer Marie Smith – without making a dent. For more information on drumming you can click here.