Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is not just an insult offered by Yosemite Sam; it is a woodpecker. We rarely see these birds in the western USA. They breed in the northeastern USA, across Canada from the Yukon Territory to the Maritime Provinces, and some of Alaska. They spend their winters in southeastern USA, Mexico and Central America.

I first met these birds on their breeding grounds in Canada (Alberta and British Columbia) during my 2005 expedition to Alaska. My next meeting wasn’t until sixteen years later, when I found them at their winter homes in Big Bend National Park (Texas).

Sapsuckers drill holes in trees that cause the sap to flow to the surface into the holes they’ve drilled. These birds drink the sweet sap and eat any insects that get trapped. Often other species will exploit the sap and the insects that are drawn to the sugary bounty.

All sapsucker species announce their territorial claims by drumming on hard surfaces. I’ve heard them tapping on metal road signs. They all sound very similar to one another. I think the cadence is reminiscent of the drum riff known as “Shave And A Haircut”.

Modern science views Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies recognised).

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