Nov 20, 2019 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, December 2019

Sapsucker Facts

Of all of the drummers in the woods, none is more interesting or has more impact on its neighbors in the web of life than the sapsucker.
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Of all of the drummers in the woods, none is more interesting or has more impact on its neighbors in the web of life than the sapsucker. Check out some interesting facts about these fascinating birds!

  • Four species of sapsuckers reside in North America:
    • Yellow-bellied is the most widespread, nesting from eastern Alaska, across Canada to the Atlantic coast, and south into the Appalachian mountains, and wintering from western Texas to Cape Cod to Panama and the Caribbean Islands.
    • Williamson's and red-naped sapsuckers nest throughout the West east of the Cascade Range, and winter in the far Southwest and in Mexico.
    • Red-breasted sapsucker is found west of the Cascade Range, from southern Alaska to Baja California.
  • Until 1983, red-naped and red-breasted sapsuckers were considered the same species as yellow-bellied.
  • Sapsuckers are found only in North and Central America.
  • All four species of sapsucker are relatively slender woodpeckers, with relatively long wings.
  • Adult sapsuckers (except the female Williamson's) have a bold white wing stripe.
  • Unlike other woodpeckers, sapsuckers bore holes in trees not to find insects, but to cause sap to flow, which they lap with their long tongue. They don't really suck sap!
  • Sapsuckers feed primarily on sap, but also insects, especially those attracted to the sap.
  • Tidy, evenly spaced, horizontal or vertical holes on trees are evidence that a sapsucker has been working.
  • Because sapsuckers feed on living trees, they are often considered a pest species.
  • Sapsuckers prefer tree species with thin bark, such as birch, but they will bore into many types of trees.
  • Most trees survive sapsucker holes, but they can cause severe tree damage and mortality. Certain tree species are more adversely affected than others. A study found that 67 percent of gray birch trees damaged by sapsuckers later died from their injuries; 51 percent for paper birch; 40 percent for red maple; 3 percent for red spruce; and 1 percent for hemlock.
  • All sapsuckers are quiet in winter.
  • Sapsuckers are known to visit nectar feeders intended for hummingbirds and suet feeders.


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  • New to birding...newbie question. We spotted what we thought was a Sapsucker at our patio feeders in December. The folks at our birding supply store told us that Sapsuckers are only here in Summer months and what we saw was a Flicker. I thought I new what a Flicker was and this did not look like a Flicker. It was thinner and more smooth looking but did have the Woodpecker Bill.
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020
  • We just signed up and get your magazine via email. Will we be receiving a printed copy?Ed [email protected]
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020
  • Chickadees are adorable and intelligent. Chickadees have brains that are the most like human brains. Chickadees are personable, lively, and have their own language. Chickadees form lasting pair bonds; and are very good parents. Love.
    by Merl Elton, Tue, 24 Dec 2019
  • I'm still worried about my backyard birds even though myth #3 says they won't starve if I stop feeding in the middle of winter. I'm concerned because I'm moving in a couple of weeks to a new house and the winter's in northern Ohio get pretty challenging. Should I start backing off slowly on there food or just stop when we move?
    by Vince Bove, Sat, 14 Dec 2019
  • Birds make our world a wonderful and beautiful place to live.
    by Mac Eco, Mon, 09 Dec 2019