WHICH ABACO BIRD HAS A YELLOW BELLY & SUCKS SAP?


Yellowbelliedsapsucker by John Harrison (Wiki)

WHICH ABACO BIRD HAS A YELLOW BELLY & SUCKS SAP?

You’re ahead of me here, aren’t you? The answer of course is… Sphyrapicus varius. Abaco has two permanently resident woodpecker species, the WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER and the HAIRY WOODPECKER. There is a third, migratory woodpecker species that is a fairly common winter resident, the yellow-bellied sapsucker. Like its woodpecker cousins, the sapsucker drills holes in trees (see below). The dual purpose is to release the sap, which it eats, and to attract insects that it also eats. A two-course meal, if you like. They’ll also eat insects on an undrilled tree, and even ‘hawk’ for them in flight. They balance their diet with fruit and berries. Bahamas -Great Abaco_Yellow-bellied Sapsucker_Gerlinde Taurer 1 FV

Bahamas-Great Abaco_Yellow-bellied Sapsucker_Gerlinde Taurer 2 copy

The distinctive patterns of sapsucker holes may completely encircle the trunk of a tree with almost mathematical precision. This is sometimes described as ‘girdling’ and may have a damaging effect on a tree, sometimes even killing it if the bark is severely harmed. This may require preventive measures in orchards for example, though note that in the US Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are listed and protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act so radical action is prohibited. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Abaco Bahamas 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 3

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER SOUNDS

DRUMMING (Xeno-Canto / Richard Hoyer)  

 CALL (Xeno-Canto / Jonathon Jogsma)  

On Abaco, palms are a favourite tree for the sapsuckers. There are several palms along the Delphi beach, and this year I noted that one coconut palm in particular had seen plenty of sapsucker  action, with the drill holes girdling the entire trunk from top to bottom.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers & Coconut Palms 1 RH Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers & Coconut Palms 2 RH

In their breeding grounds yellow-bellied sapsuckers excavate a large cavity in a softwood tree as a nest. They mate for life, and often return to the same nest year every year, with the pair sharing nesting duties. I have no idea whether the pair migrate south for the winter together, or whether they agree to take a break from each other. I’d like to think it’s the former…

sphy_vari_AllAm_mapSphyrapicus varius Dominic Sherony (Wiki)

Credits: Photos Gerlinde Taurer, Tom Sheley, RH + John Harrison & Dominic Sherony (Wiki); Cornell Lab (Range Map) & Xeno-Canto (YBS recordings as credited above)

Species featured in ‘The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco’ by Keith Salvesen, pp 242-3

9 thoughts on “WHICH ABACO BIRD HAS A YELLOW BELLY & SUCKS SAP?

  1. Pingback: American woodpeckers at owls’ nest | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Yellow-billed sapsucker on tree, video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. There are dozens of trees here with the sapsucker holes, yet I have never seen one!!! What time of day is better to watch for them? Any secrets?

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    • Only on Abaco Oct – Apr. I don’t know when the best time is – maybe early morning or evening when insects are about. Have you heard them drilling – that’s the best clue to their presence! RH

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  4. Love the woodpecker sound-bytes! Have heard that distinctive ‘hammering’ sound many times in my yard and neighbourhood. Sometimes you may hear them in the distance but never spot them. Also like to see the patterned trees. Spotted a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in the seagrape tree in our front yard earlier this year (February?) Really like your photos because it can sometimes be difficult to spot them when they start going round and round the tree. Thanks for the steady camera-hand 🙂

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    • Thanks Gina, I try to put in the more unusual sounds. Usually I can put the little player on the page, but there’s a gremlin to be sorted out. Xeno-Canto is a great resource for bird sounds – song, call, alarm, drumming etc. I’ve uploaded a few of my own. I know what you mean about the birds that work their way round a trunk or branch… but at least they aren’t flying off, so there’s the chance to get them if you wait! RH

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