Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder for December 20: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sapsucker,_Yellow-bellied_DominicSheronyYellow-bellied Sapsucker
Sphyrapicus varius

Where to find it: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found throughout the state in winter. In spring and summer these woodpeckers can more commonly be found nesting in the northwest corner of the state although they are becoming increasingly more common in the northeast corner. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are most often associated with a mix of conifer and maple forests. They drill shallow, horizontal holes in a circular pattern around the trunks of trees, and are particularly fond of maple, apple, basswood, willow, spruce and firs. They return to these drill holes for weeks to feed on the leaking sap and on insects that become stuck in the sap. During freezing weather they will feed on beef suet hung on a tree.

What it looks like: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are little larger and stockier than Downy Woodpeckers.  They are black and white, with adult males sporting a bright red crown and throat. Adult females lack the red throat. They have a prominent white stripe on their wings.

How to find it: At Connecticut Audubon’s Center at Pomfret and the surrounding 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary, they can be found from fall til late winter in the large maple trees in front of the nature center; along Day Road, where they feed in the basswood trees; and along the Bog Trail near the boardwalk. During breeding season, nesting occurs along the Golden Hill Trail deep in the woods near the large vernal pool. Elsewhere in the state, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been observed in Glastonbury, Sterling, at the West Rock Nature Center in Hamden, Bloomfield, Plainfield and Colchester.

A tip for finding an active feeding tree: if you see a maple tree with black-looking bark on some of it, check it for drill holes; the sap that flows from the sapsucker’s drill holes turns the bark black. Listen for their mewing call to pinpoint their location.

What if the bird isn’t there? If you’re traveling to the Center at Pomfret to look for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, also check the Center’s feeding station for American Tree Sparrows. The hedgerows around the fields hold bluebirds, mockingbirds, robins, sparrows, and occasionally a Northern Shrike. Check the blackbird flocks closely: on December 10 we had an adult male Yellow-headed Blackbird, which might still be in the area.

Conservation status: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are considered to be of least conservation concern by the IUCN.

This week’s Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder was contributed by Andy Rzeznikiewicz, the land manager at our Pomfret and Trail Wood Preserves.
Photo by Dominic Sherony.
To sign up for future Connecticut Bird Finder emails, send your name and town to tandersen@ctaudubon.org.

5 Responses to “Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder for December 20: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker”

  1. Tom Andersen says:

    Nice. They are just uncommon enough to always warrant a close look. Thanks!

  2. David says:

    Got a good, long look at a male on a maple tree in our front yard in Ellington yesterday afternoon.

  3. Doug in Wilton says:

    After 20+ years here, saw my first one ever today (a male). All the many other birds are active as usual at the backyard feeder, but this sapsucker was happily drilling sap wells in the magnolia outside the front door. Hope he sticks around for a while.

  4. Tim Dwyer says:

    From Coventry CT. Thanks for this information. We have had one at the suet feeder for the past three days, but have never seen one in the 15 years we have been here. Just about everything else I found in publication and on the web indicates that they should be further to the south right now. I am relieved to find that they are fairly common here during the winter.

  5. Kali Block says:

    Saw two males and a juvenile today! The males were up in the trees along the trails around Lake Mohegan in Fairfield and the juvenile was in my yard in Fairfield (very close to Lake Mohegan). I was able to get close enough to the two males at Lake Mohegan to get decent photographs with my point and shoot without disturbing them. The trails around Lake Mohegan is definitely another great place to check out for this bird!

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