Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Signs

Holes produced by Sphyrapicus varius
(Click on the photo for a better look)
This tree has tried to heal and cover the holes

Food habits: Unlike other woodpeckers, in some parts of the country, Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are not as interested in insects for food as they are in looking for tree sap. They collect sap using their long brush-tipped tongue as the sap flows out of the holes they've drilled.

In other places the sapsucker feeds primarily on insects. Most common are beetles, ants, moths and dragonflies.

This gives the birds two choices, when insects are not abundant, then sap is an important food source.

During autumn and winter, it feeds on berries and fruits. Frequently, the bird may adopt a tree, and feeds on it year after year,especially birches. The sapsucker forages for insects by gleaning, probing, prying, tapping and flycatching. It flicks off bark and chips or excavates for insects in dead wood. It may also drill a series of shallow holes in the bark, to lick up sap. It makes two kinds of holes: round, deep and narrow holes where it inserts its bill to probe to sap and rectangular shallower holes which they maintain continually for the sap to flow and attract insects. New holes are made in a line with old holes, or in a new line above the old.

The holes sapsuckers drill are about one-eighth of an inch in diameter, and are evenly spaced up and down and around the trunk, appearing as if done by a machine. Don't confuse sapsucker holes with holes created by insect borers. Borer holes are rarely as numerous as sapsucker holes and are randomly spaced.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers most often drill holes in white birch, sugar maple, red maple, Austrian pine, Scots pine, Canada hemlock, apple, ornamental crabapple, mountain ash, linden trees and other trees producing large amounts of sap...

Sometimes this produces a really ugly tree. What do you think?

Photo using Martha's new Nikon S51 Point and Shoot.


Sandpiper said...

We have a tree outside our window where the sapsuckers have made their mark, but last year that part of the tree had to be cut down. I'm hoping the birds will return, but so far, I haven't seen them.

John said...

I kind of like the look, especially since I know that a sapsucker caused it. It seems to me that I generally see sapsucker holes in smooth-barked trees. I'm not sure if that is because the sapsuckers prefer the smooth bark or just that the holes stand out more visually.

Hugh said...

Wow, that is ugly. What kind of tree is that? In southern BC we have the Red-breasted Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus ruber, which does the same thing to birches, Shore Pine (native), non-native pines and other conifers, but I've never seen a tree react like that. Very cool!

fishing guy said...

Troy: Amazing picture, I've never seen anything like it.

Doug Taron said...

I have always felt that sapsucker damage gives some character to the tree.

Marvin said...

I've seen trees like that, but thought we just had some really neat and organized wood borers. Thanks for info.

Duncan said...

Troy, over here the marsupial gliders chew sloping channels in the bark of some types of eucalypt, and lap the sap as it drains down. They make a much bigger mess of the tree than your sapsuckers!