In the past three days I have been entertained by a visitor that I have not seen for more than two years. I don’t really know if this visitor is actually one that I saw during the bitterest of late January and early February of 2014, but she is quite fun to watch whether new to my woods or not. I can see her out my kitchen window. She is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus various.
Back in the winter of 2014, a family of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers showed up at the “watering hole” adjacent to the woods, and just outside my kitchen window. Female, male and juvenile. It was so cold that I was concerned for them. The only thing they seemed to be doing was enjoying the warm water that I had provided, and shivering. Particularly the female. In the picture above, by the way, is the male. Notice his stronger coloring, and the crimson patch at this throat, compared to the first picture, my current visitor, a female. They stayed around for a few days, during those extreme days of 2014, and then I never saw any of this species of woodpecker again, until just a few days ago.
The female that has appeared at the suet feeder has declared this suet to be hers and hers alone.
She takes her time feeding at the suet and takes a break, clinging to the little Dogwood trunk just a few feet away, with her sharply clawed toes. There have been Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Downy Woodpeckers who are regulars at the suet feeder. Now, if the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker sees someone that she considers a violator of her space she immediately throws her body at the intruder. This has gone on for three solid days, every moment that the suet feeder has been out there, in daylight. I don’t know where she goes as the sun goes down, but she must trust that nobody is going to eat her suet.
This behavior has me curious and I’ve gone to an amazing reference “book”, the internet. I find that Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drill holes into trees that create sap flows, called sapwells. Sapwells provide the birds with sap which they lap up with their brush-tipped tongues, a path to the tree’s cambium which they eat, and the sap traps insects which they also eat.
The information about the sapwells is not new to me. Up in the woods there are trees that have lines of holes. These are sapwells created by the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Even in the trees immediately around my cabin, I don’t have concern about the woodpeckers harming my trees. Seldom is serious harm done.
I do find a bit of information that might apply. These Sapsuckers tend to watch over and protect their sapwells. This has me wondering. Could she have tapped into the little Dogwood? I go out and sure enough, I find a sapwell! And within a short time, she is working on another Dogwood just a short distance away. From my perch at the kitchen window I can see telltale moisture around the area where she has been working.
Nature is always prodding me to dig to get more information. Dig to learn more. I love Mother Nature.