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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Photo by: 
Kim Hawkins

Did you ever watch the Beverly Hillbillies? I loved that show as a kid. One of the more memorable characters for me was Mr. Drysdale’s Secretary, Jane Hathaway. Every so often she would be clad in her “birdwatching” attire and in search of the elusive Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!

That would be a rare bird in Beverly Hills California, but luckily for us, we get to see them every winter in our area. I have had a female coming to my peanut feeder for that last three winters.

Though the name doesn’t say it, they are woodpeckers. They are among a group of birds who are known for drilling rows of small holes into living trees so that the sap “oozes” to the surface. The sapsucker and other birds will lick the sap for the sugar energy but they will feast on the insects that are attracted to it. I have seen Ruby-throated Hummingbirds licking the sap in the early spring. Contrary to popular belief, the sapsucker holes cause little if any harm to the tree.

Yellow-bellieds are about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker. but can easily be distinguished from other woodpeck- ers by the long white slash down their wings. The white can occasionally be hard to see but once the bird moves around a bit, it generally reveals itself.

Males are easily told from females as they have red throats while the ladies have white throats. Juvenile birds look like the adults but are far more mottled. During the winter the yellow belly is quite “dull”. Just before they leave or pass through in the spring you can see adults that have molted into their breeding plumage.

Did you know that group of sapsuckers is collectively known as a “slurp” of sapsuckers? Keep your peanut and suet feeders filled this winter and watch for the white wing slash of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to show up in your yard.

By Mark McKellar

FALL 2011