There is no mistaking the source of this bird’s name, whether by hue or behavior. This colorful woodpecker uses its strong beak to drill into trees so that it can drink the sap that emerges. The sapsucker is migratory, unlike most woodpeckers, and prefers the plentiful birch, maple, and hemlock it finds when moving through western Pennsylvania.
The birds seem aware that they must exhibit some care in selecting trees on which to feed. The holes they bore in a tree are essentially wounds, and the flowing sap is the tree’s attempt to heal. The sapsucker makes sure to focus on trees that are already damaged—such as from wind, lightning, or disease—because sickly trees produce a more nutrient-rich sap.
The ability to coax sap from trees is rare in the birding world. Indeed, even human researchers have been unable to replicate the sapsucker’s technique with any success! While the neat rows of telltale holes left behind by sapsuckers may be unsightly to humans, they are quite attractive to other sap-loving species. Some hummingbirds have even been shown to time their migration to match that of the sapsucker and limit their breeding range to areas that it inhabits.
Photo: Robert Royse