Monday, September 7, 2009

My aha! moment with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (BPW)

While we were vacationing up in northern Michigan earlier this summer, I got to add a bird to my life list: the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I was pretty psyched about it. Before I saw the bird, I noticed its calling card:




Sap holes!

According to the All About Birds page for Yellow-bellieds, they drill 2 kinds of holes: deep round holes into which they insert their bill to extract sap, and shallow rectangular holes which must be constantly maintained in order for the sap to keep flowing.

Their preferred nesting habitat is aspen and birch trees, both of which surround the house.


"Blending in"


I observed several individuals, but had a hard time pinning down sex and age. The one in the middle seems to be a male (ID'd by the red on the throat), but the others could be female, or juveniles. I did see some juveniles being fed by a parent, but didn't get any photos of that. Leaves on the trees and poor lighting kept me from getting excellent views of them, even with binoculars.

One thing I was able to see pretty clearly, though, when the light shone on the tree just right, was the abundance of bugs that were attracted to the sap flowing from those holes. A little while later, I had my aha! moment:


Bugs attracted by sap means food for the birds! Not rocket science, I know, but I don't think I would have necessarily made the connection if I had not seen it with my own eyes. Just goes to show how powerful of a learning (and remembering) tool personal observation can be.

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9 comments:

mick said...

I like the way your photos show how the bird blends in with the patterns on the tree trunks. The last photo with the bug in its mouth is fantastic!

NW Nature Nut said...

Your photos are wonderful! I too like the last one with the big juicy bug!

Monika said...

Interesting, I hadn't made the connection with sapsuckers attracting bugs by dripping sap either. Cool observation!

There is a red-bellied sapsucker that sometimes visits my parents' yard and I've seen an Anna's hummingbird follow it around and drink sap out of the holes the woodpecker has just worked on.

Larry Jordan said...

Thanks for the insight Heather! Beautiful photos of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker juvenile. The last one with the insect is an amazing capture!

Funny, Monika mentioned the Anna's Hummingbird following the sapsucker around. I posted a photo of this very activity with a Nuttall's Woodpecker and the hummingbird with her beak in the sap hole here. I had never seen this behavior before.

Kelly said...

...great post. I grew up with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that lived in our backyard. His favorite tree to drill in was a huge pine. Because he visited every day...for years and years (I assume his progeny took over when he left off because he was present over the years--at least 15 years) I thought he was common. Little did I know it would be years before I saw another after I left home. Lovely photos....love that last one! I would watch him pluck bugs from those little drilled sap holes too...so cool!

Nature As Is said...

Excellent post Heather!! I'm glad you got a bird from your wish list that's fantastic :) I still searching for my first Owl..no luck yet

Arija said...

What a great experience for you to see this bird with cunning way of providing for itself!

The Early Birder said...

Hi Heather. I think this is the first time I've seen the Sapsuckers trademarks. Do I presume that the trees are already dying? FAB

Heather said...

Mick - I never really read much about woodpeckers feathers acting as camouflage, but I don't know what else you would call such exquisite blending in!

Michele - Thanks. I didn't know I got that "bug in the beak" shot until I checked it out on my computer.

Monika and Larry - I never would have thought of hummingbirds going after sap, but I suppose it makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing your own observations with me!

Kelly - I've never seen a YB Sapsucker in Ohio, but I've heard other Ohio birders make mention of them. From what I gather, they are mostly just migratory in the state. Do you ever see them anywhere along the Little Miami?

Crista - Yeah, it was super cool to get a new bird! I hope you get your owl soon!

Arija - It was a great experience, and just proves how smart our little avian friends are!

Frank - Hi there! I think it's safe to assume the trees are already dying (good question!). I saw 2 trees with the sap holes in them, and at least one of them was looking pretty unhealthy. The other might have a few good years left in it.