Bird of the Week

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Photo courtesy Byron Greco

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the yellow-bellied sapsucker.

This member of the woodpecker family is reported here only in winter and then just rarely. The bird in this photo was spotted recently in town. 

These woodpeckers are completely migratory, breeding in forests from eastern Alaska through the boreal forests of Canada and in the northern parts of states from North Dakota to the east. They winter in the eastern and southern states, through Mexico and into Central America.

Ideal habitat for these birds is mixed deciduous/conifer forests with lots of young trees like those areas regenerating after logging has occurred. They drill sapwells year-round to suck the high-sugar-content sap and eat the insects it captures. In spring, they drill circular holes deep into the tree xylem to obtain the sap flowing up into the branches. After the tree leafs out, they drill shallow rectangular holes in the phloem to capture the sap flowing down from the leaves.

These holes must be maintained regularly to keep the sap flowing and this bird spends most of its time near its sapwells. Other birds, particularly hummingbirds, and bats and porcupines may sneak in to take advantage of the sapsucker’s hard work.

This fairly small woodpecker has a mottled back and whitish to pale yellow undersides. Males have a red crown and throat and females a red crown and white throat. Vertical white patches along the side of the folded wing and a black and white-striped face are identification marks.

Migratory behavior in birds is an inherent, instinctive behavior. Some fly incredible distances each spring and fall, some move only a short distance, and others stay put. Vagrant birds that stray off course of the usual migratory path present a mystery and are exciting to spot to the birdwatchers among us.

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