Friday, January 23, 2015

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers

During late fall, this tree in our back yard began producing small golden brown colored fruit and dropping its leaves.  Soon after, flocks of birds were often seen consuming the fruit- in particular, Cedar Waxwings and Robins.  The squirrels that I had often seen in trees across the road became regular morning and evening visitors to the fruit bearing tree.  I was unfamiliar with this variety of tree and often wondered what kind it was.  I think I found my answer this evening- I believe this is an Aristocrat Flowering Pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Aristocrat').  Are you familiar with this type of tree?

The tree also attracts a pair of Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers.  These small, colorful woodpeckers usually alight midway on the tree trunk then scoot backwards until they find a suitable spot to probe. They usually hang around for several minutes, pecking away at the bark as they slowly make their way back up the tree trunk. They'll also scoot along one of the branches, snatch up a fruit and return to the tree trunk where they consume it.  They don't mingle with the other birds and, as of yet, they haven't been seen at the bird feeders or suet cage.  

The Female:

The Male:

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are mostly black and white with boldly patterned faces. Both sexes have red foreheads, and males also have red throats. Look for a long white stripe along the folded wing. Bold black-and-white stripes curve from the face toward a black chest shield and white or yellowish underparts.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers depart their breeding range in September and early October for wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Mexico, West Indies, and Central America. They arrive back north in May. Females tend to migrate farther south than males, with a ratio of more than three females to one male having been counted in Central America.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers behave much like other woodpeckers, hitching up and down trees along the bark and leaning away from the trunk, using their stiff tail feathers for support. They fly in a woodpecker’s typical up-and-down, bouncing or swooping manner. They spend most of their time at their sapwells, either drilling them, licking sap and any insects caught in it, or chasing off other birds (such as hummingbirds) that may be attracted to the sap. They also perch at the tips of tree branches when hunting for flying insects, and hop on the ground to forage for ants. In early spring, before mating, sapsucker pairs engage in playful pre-courtship behavior, with one sapsucker chasing the other around tree trunks and branches. Courting birds will land on a tree and face each other with bills and tails raised, throat feathers fluffed out and crest feathers raised, swinging their heads from side to side. This is the same behavior they use when aggressively facing off with sapsuckers of the same sex. Sapsucker mating pairs stay together through the nesting season and raising of young, and often (but not always) reunite for subsequent breeding seasons, though it seems their fidelity may not be to their mate so much as the nesting area or even the particular nest tree.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers aren’t regular bird feeder visitors, although they may visit suet feeders. And if you have young birch or maple trees in your yard and you live in the sapsucker’s range, you just might get to see one drilling its sapwells firsthand.  (Information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site).


  1. i like spotting these birds. i usually hear their odd call, first, then find them picking in the locust trees. :)

  2. What a gorgeous little pair of birds! I had to come and check out your photos when I saw the title because, when I was young, we would call each other 'yellow bellied sapsuckers' and I had no idea it was something real!!

  3. Yes indeed, great shots Susan!:) Chances are I'll never see this kind of Woodpecker, except on blogs like yours, but I have learnt such a lot about them already through your very detailed commentary.
    Have a good weekend.

  4. Cool sighting! They are cool birds, great shots! Have a happy weekend!

  5. That is a really great bird. I haven't seen one since I was in college in Vermont.

  6. awwww, a little session of hide and Seak. I hate that the boys are always prettier!! It just doesn't seem fair!!