Backyard Nature Wednesday: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

An infrequent but always welcome winter visitor to my backyard is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Just this week, I have observed my first one of this winter.

 This medium-sized woodpecker spends its summers in the far northern parts of the United States and in Canada, but in fall and winter, it wanders south and some of them make their way to the Gulf Coast and even farther south, into Mexico and Central America.

The bird prefers mixed woodlands for its habitat. It nests in such places and is especially fond of aspens. In winter, it also prefers woodlands for its home, but is not so picky about the kinds of trees it contains. 

Sapsuckers get their name from their habit of drilling small holes in the bark of trees from which they sip the sap and also feed on the insects that are attracted to the flowing sap. Many other birds, including hummingbirds, make use of the tiny holes to extract sap or catch insects. Some of the insects attracted to the holes include flies, butterflies and moths, and, of course, bees. 

The birds are sometimes persecuted by tree-owners who don't want them pecking holes in their trees, but in fact the trees are perfectly able to tolerate the holes. Nearly all the trees in my yard have the parallel lines of holes which mark the sapsucker's presence. That presence doesn't bother me or the trees.  

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, like most of our native woodpeckers, is clothed in black and white feathers with a red crown on the head and, in the case of the male, a red throat. They might be mistaken for a Downy Woodpecker or a Hairy Woodpecker. In fact, they are just between those two woodpeckers in size, larger than the Downy but smaller than the Hairy.

Here is a video from YouTube of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers visiting a tree in which they have drilled holes.

They are very interesting little birds. If you are lucky enough to have one visiting your yard this winter, make him welcome.


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