Signs of sapsuckers: Ohio's winter woodpecker

   The yellow-bellied sapsucker is without question probably Ohio's most uncommon woodpecker species, closely followed by the near-threatened red-headed woodpecker. The reason for the yellow-bellied sapsucker's scarcity is that, with the exception of migration, it only resides in a small portion of souther Ohio during the winter. Unlike the traditional woodpecker, the yellow-bellied sapsucker's diet consists mainly of insects, besides, of course, the trademark sap for which these birds have been named. A little history on that: The name sapsucker comes from these bird's habit of drilling a line of holes, called 'sapwells', into a tree and then lapping up the sap that flows out of the holes. There are two types of holes that the birds make to do this. The first is a deep circular hole that allows the sap to flow easily and continually out. The second type is a more shallow and square-shaped hole that has to be mantained for a continuous sap flow. Other animals are also attracted to the sapsucker's sapwells, most notably hummingbirds (which often reults in their bills getting 'glued' shut, resulting in death if they are unable to free their bills of the sticky substance).

I photographed this sapwell in a sugar maple tree in my backyard today. Notice the line of holes that ooze sap. These holes are the much smaller holes that require maintenance in order to continue a flow of sap.


   Chances are, you, like me, never knew that sapsucker's lived in your neighborhood. Sure, I knew their range extended to my area, but I have never known them to actually be in the area. Upon discovering the holes today, I looked up the yellow-bellied sapsucker's ID on Cornell Lab's All About Birds website. Upon listening to the call, I recognized that none other than the yellow-bellied sapsucker was the owner of the (up until a short while ago) unidentified bird calls that I had heard in the woods while hunting. Mystery solved (though by accident). I will conclude my article by posting a recording of a typical yellow-bellied sapsucker call below. You too have probably heard their calls ringing through the forest on a cold winter day.

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