YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (sphyrapicus varius)
DESCRIPTION: The Yellow-bellied sapsucker male has a red cap and throat. The cap is lined with black, then a white line. A black bar crosses the eye, following by a white one starting from the bill base. Back, wings and tail are black with some white. Underside mostly white. Sexes are similar except for the throat, which is white for females. Bill is black, legs and feet grey. Bird length is about 20 cm (8 inches).
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Sphyrapicus-varius – Call sounds like a cat meowing.
NAME: English name refers to bird’s plumage and feeding habits. Latin genus name ‘Sphyrapicus’ means ‘hammer’ and ‘woodpecker’. Latin species name ‘varius’ means ‘variegated’.
HABITAT: Young forests, mixed forests, orchards.
DIET: Sap from trees. Also feed on insects (ants), spiders, fruit.
NESTING: Nest built in tree cavity. Around five white eggs are laid, incubated by both parents. Chicks fed by both parents.
DISTRIBUTION: Breeds in most of Canada up to the tree line east of Rockies, also northeast of USA. Winters in southeast USA, Mexico and the Carribbean.
ON PEI: Breeds on Prince Edward Island, common in spring and summer.
CONSERVATION: Population numbers around 10 million, not at risk.
NOTES: This woodpecker has a particular way of feeding itself, as its name implies. It bores 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. It prefers trees with 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.
This feeding behavior attracts the ruby-throated hummingbird, which feeds on nectar (and sweet sap too if given the opportunity). However if the bird girdles the tree, the part above will die. ‘Girdling‘ happens when an animal completely removes the bark of a tree around it.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker has two forward and two backward toes, which allows better grip when climbing vertically on tree trunks. In addition, tail feathers have stiff ends to provide more support.
Drumming: A behavior that is unique to the woodpeckers including this one, is their drumming on metal surfaces (preferably) for territorial and courtship purposes, and the louder the better. The drumming can then be heard from a good distance. Woodpeckers will not shy away from drumming on buildings, on hollow metal parts, for example, that brings them a good loud sound. For more information on drumming, you can click here.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker
REFERENCES: https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/yellow-bellied-sapsucker
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://www.thespruce.com/yellow-bellied-sapsucker-profile-386386
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/yellow-bellied-sapsucker
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow-bellied_sapsucker
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/yellow-bellied-sapsucker (Missouri Department of Conservation)
https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sphyrapicus_varius/ (University of Michigan)
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-bellied_Flycatcher/id

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker pair - Afton Road, PEI - May 21, 2018 - © Roberta Palmer
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker pair – Afton Road, PEI – May 21, 2018 – Roberta Palmer
Yellow-bellied sapsucker - Margate area, PEI May 21, 2016 - by Chris Rice
Pair of Yellow-bellied sapsuckers – Margate area, PEI May 21, 2016 – Chris Rice
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Burlington area, PEI - May 11, 2016 - © David Cody
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ‘beats a tune’ on ladder – Burlington area, PEI – May 11, 2016 – David Cody
Yellow-bellied sapsucker - Margate area, PEI - May 21, 2016 - by Chris Rice
Yellow-bellied sapsucker – Margate area, PEI – May 21, 2016 – Chris Rice
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Breadalbane Trail, PEI - Apr. 30, 2017 - © Marie Smith
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Breadalbane Trail, PEI – Apr. 30, 2017 – © Marie Smith
Yellow-bellied sapsucker - Margate area, PEI - May 21, 2016 by Chris Rice
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers busy at work – Margate area, PEI – May 21, 2016 Chris Rice
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female - Mexico - 2013 - photo by Roberta Palmer
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker female – Mexico – 2013 – Roberta Palmer

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