|Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker|
|Jodie Cregier Nettelhorst's male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as seen through her window.|
From All About Birds. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
breed in the dark red, winter in the blue, and
simply pass through in the yellow.
Many woodpeckers move at least a bit from place to place between seasons, and a few species, such as Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, travel long distances in search of tree stands harboring the insects that attack diseased or burned trees.
|Black-backed Woodpeckers like this one flake bark off diseased trees to get to the insects beneath.|
But very few woodpeckers undergo what we traditionally think of as standard bird migration, with annual movements between a northern breeding range and a non-overlapping southern winter range. Why so few? It takes time and work to dig out wood-boring beetle larvae and other prey insects deep in trees. By staying within the same area year-round, each woodpecker can keep track of the health of and insect-populations within lots of individual trees. Some woodpeckers, including Red-headed and Red-bellied, use acorns as an important food resource, storing a great many for future use. Acorn Woodpeckers are especially adapted for this. Sticking around in the same place allows them to protect and utilize those food stores.
|Flickers feed on ants and other insects in the soil.|
|Sapsuckers are functionally illiterate, and this one hasn't read that it's supposed to stay in trees.|
The sapsucker makes two kinds of holes for harvesting sap. Round holes extend deep in the tree and are not enlarged. Rectangular holes are shallower, and must be maintained continually for the sap to flow. New holes of either type are often made in line with old holes to encircle the trunk, and then the woodpecker starts a new row of holes above the old.The sapsucker licks the sap from these holes, and also eats the cambium of the tree and insects drawn to the sap.
|If you look carefully, you can see tiny holes on this large limb.|
|These shallow, rectangular holes must be maintained or the sap will stop running to them.|
Woodpecker species that show sexual dimorphism, meaning the males look different from females, virtually always show those plumage differences on their heads, which allows them to recognize each other's sex when one is inside a cavity with just the head sticking out.
|This Red-bellied Woodpecker can be recognized as a male by its|
red forehead, easy to see even when it's within a cavity.
|If facing the right way on a narrow branch, you might get a peek at the yellow belly, like on this female.|
Any day now, I’m going to find my first backyard sapsucker feeding quietly in my aspen tree, where I’ve seen my first every year since 1981. During cold snaps, I might spot a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or Yellow-rumped Warbler at the drill holes. Crows carrying sticks; robins, grackles, and Killdeer are my first reliable signs that spring is really coming. But my first backyard Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is my official sign that spring has actually arrived, and all is right in my world.