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’.
NOTES: As with many other woodpeckers, the yellow-bellied sapsucker has two forward and two backward toes, which allows better grip when climbing vertically on tree trunks. In addition, their 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.
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.