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  • Press Release

What Birds are flying this Week?

Beginning in September and October, yellow-bellied sapsuckers depart their breeding range from the northeastern United States up into Canada and west towards Alaska. Wintering grounds for the sapsucker begin in the southern United States and stretch further south into Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. North Carolinians typically see yellow-bellied sapsuckers from late September to late April. During this time, they can be found in bottomland hardwood forests up to the high-elevation forests in the North Carolina mountains.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are mostly black and white with boldly patterned faces. Both sexes have red foreheads, and males also have red throats. Look for a long white stripe along the folded wing. Bold black and white stripes curve from the face toward a black chest shield and white or yellowish underparts.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker feeds mainly on tree sap. In early spring, the sapsucker drills narrow, circular wells into the tree’s xylem, the inner part of the trunk, to feed on sap moving upward toward the branches. After the trees leaf out, the sapsucker creates shallower, rectangular wells in the phloem, the part of the trunk that carries sap down from the leaves. These wells require continual maintenance to keep the sap flowing and sapsuckers tend to drill these wells throughout the year on their breeding and wintering grounds.

Next time you’re on a walk in the woods, keep an eye out for horizontal rows of neatly drilled holes. As you might expect, sapsuckers prefer trees with a high sugar concentration in the sap. They strongly prefer birches and maples but have been observed drilling sapwells in more than one thousand species of trees and woody plants. In addition to sap, sapsuckers eat a variety of insect species and fruit.

Source: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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