The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized species of woodpecker. It has black and white bars on its back and a white stripe running up each side of its body. The male has a red throat and red crown. The female has a white throat and a black crown. Both males and females have a pale yellow underside.
A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker measures 8-9 inches (20-23 cm) long. Its wingspan is 13-16 inches (33-41 cm). An average Yellow-bellied Sapsucker weighs between 1.5 and 1.9 oz (43-55 g).
- The long, thick bill of a sapsucker helps the bird to chip away tree bark and drill into the wood.
- A sapsucker has a short tongue covered with hair that it uses to lap the sap out of the holes that it drills in trees.
- Woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet (with two toes on each foot facing forwards and two toes facing backwards). This toe position helps the woodpeckers to keep their balance while climbing tree trunks.
- Sapsuckers and other woodpeckers have extra-stiff tail feathers that help to support the bird as it holds onto a tree trunk.
In the wild, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers feed on tree sap and the insects that are attracted to the sap. They will also feed on fruits and berries. At Cosley Zoo, the sapsucker is given a processed insectivore (insect-eater) diet, fruits and vegetables, seeds, and mealworms.
Breeding occurs in April or May. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers spend up to four weeks using their beaks to carve out a nesting cavity in a tree trunk. The female will then lay a clutch (group of eggs) which consists of two to seven eggs. Males and females work together to incubate the eggs for two weeks before they hatch. The parents feed the chicks insects which have been dipped in tree sap. After three or four weeks, the young birds are ready to fledge (fly for the first time).
Shelter and Space Needs
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers live in forested areas throughout North America. These birds are migratory, spending the winter in the southern United States, Central America, and the West Indies and the summer in the northern Midwest and northeastern United States. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be seen in Illinois during migration.
The lifespan of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is 6-8 years. .
Importance to Man
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been known to cause injury to trees due to the numerous holes that they drill in a tree trunk while feeding. These birds do play an important role in nature, however, and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is known as a keystone species (a species upon which other animals depend for their own survival). Bats, squirrels, porcupines, and many other types of birds utilize the holes made by sapsuckers to get food for themselves.
- A group of sapsuckers is called a "slurp".
- Sapsuckers don't actually suck the sap from a tree. They lap up the sap using their short bristly tongues.
- Ruby-throated Hummingbirds often follow Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers as they drill holes in trees, eating sap from the holes opened up by the sapsucker.