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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