This Month in the Garden (December 2009)...
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are the only migratory woodpeckers
in eastern North America. The
birds may winter as far south as Panama but some individuals, like this
one, stay in the southern parts of their breeding territory during the
winter. This bird (or one
just like it) has been sighted in a Garden Club memberís Port
Washington yard for three winters. Females
can be distinguished from males by the white feathers on their throats.
Sapsuckers drill holes in tree trunks, drinking the sweet
sap. They also feed on the
cambium, or growth layer, of bark, especially in fruit trees.
The birds eat the insects attracted to the oozing sap as well as
those they find elsewhere on the trees and pluck from the air. Fruit and
berries are important parts of their diet as well.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drum to mark their territory during
mating season. The birds can
beat out their signals on tree trunks, street signs and even chimney
flashings without harming themselves.
They nest in deciduous trees, especially birch and aspen where
they excavate nesting cavities 20 to 30 feet above the ground.
They raise one brood a year, caring for the nestlings up to four
weeks after they hatch. The
same birds mate each year as long as they both survive although they may
not spend the entire year as a pair.
Other birds and animals benefit from the sapsuckerís work, feeding at their sap wells and reusing abandon nesting hallows. Unlike many birds, the yellow-bellied sapsuckers have benefited from cutting old growth forest since they favor open areas and edge habitat.
Port Washington Garden Club, PO
Box 492, Port Washington, Wisconsin 53074
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