Monday, January 17, 2011

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: Right Under Our Noses

Many years ago, we planted a Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) tree by the woods for Fall color. It's about 30 feet high now.

In early January, W was out in the field playing with new binoculars. He noticed some movement on the trunk and when he took a closer look he found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) drinking sap from small holes it had drilled into the bark. He managed to get the following photographs.

*****Perched on the side of the trunk. A trickle of sap is visible just to the left of the sapsucker.

Drinking sap from a crevice on the tree trunk.

Drinking sap from a little further down the trickle. Even with its red head and throat, it’s easy to see how this bird would ‘blend’ into the tree trunk even as it moved around the trunk.

I took a look at the tree which is bare now.

Clearly this tree has been a favorite of sapsuckers for many years. The rows of holes are only 3 to 4 inches apart.

Fresh holes with sap trickling down the bark. As I was approaching the tree, some Pine Warblers (Dendroica pinus
) were also drinking from the holes and flew off to fuss at me from nearby pine branches.

I also looked at the trunk of a nearby Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) tree. Sapsuckers had obviously been harvesting sap from this tree as well - although there are no fresh wounds. However, there were only a few rows of healed holes on the trunk and with the exception of tow rows about 3 to 4 inches apart, the rows were 3 to 3 feet apart. It’s not clear whether this is because the Sugar Maple is more desirable than the Pecan tree or because the latter is further from the protection of the woods.

Unfortunately Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers only winter in the South so we probably won’t see them during the summer. But now I know that I can probably sit out in the field and watch them to my hearts content in the Fall and Winter.

Click on an image to view a larger image

Identification resources:

- The Cornell Institute of Ornithology: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Related post:

- Woodpeckers: Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) and Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)


Ontario Wanderer said...

Most of the sap suckers that I have seen have been on birch trees up here in Ontario. Both maples and birches do have sweet sap so I would probably be at the same trees if I were a sap sucker.

JSK said...

That's interesting. I'm going to have to check a lot more trees around here. I think the Sugar Maple has the advantage but who knows.
I will have to start thinking like a sap sucker.