Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in Allegany State Park
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
In the 1930’s the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was considered “a regular summer bird of Allegany Park but it is not very common. It occurs regularly about the edges of big timber areas such as the Big Basin and other patches of mature Maple-Beech” (A.A. Saunders. 1942. Summer Birds of the Allegany State Park, NYS Museum Handbook 18). Saunders did not document any nesting pairs of Sapsuckers but did indicate that he saw some fledglings. Baird found the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had gone from 0 breeding pairs in 1930 up to 282 breeding pairs in the Quaker Run Valley in just over 55 years (T.H. Baird. 1990. Changes in Breeding Bird Populations Between 1930 and 1985 in the Quaker Run Valley of Allegany State Park, NYS Museum Bulletin No. 477). I have also found the Sapsucker to be commonly found (if not the most commonly found woodpecker) here in Allegany State Park. But I have also found that they are more commonly heard moving through the woods than being seen. They are quickly identified by their unevenly drumming song and their cat-like call notes that are very distinctive for this species. (See the sound clip below!)
Female and male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
I have been very pleased banding many of these Sapsuckers over at the SWAT MAPS banding station this year. The photo above shows that both the female and male have some black streaking along their sides, red on their crown, a white vertical bar on the wing and a black-and-white pattern to their head, wings and back. Males also have the red patch on their throat (females only have red on the crown) which makes identifying the sex of this species easily.
Hatch year male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sep 2006).
Once the Juvenal males start molting into their prebasic molt (coming out of their Juvenal plumage with all black-and-white feathers) they quickly start developing their red crown and throat coloring before the summer is over (as in the photo above). Females are somewhat later in developing the red crown, which they do not acquire until later in the fall/winter.
Adult female and unusual second year female.
Over at the SWAT MAPS banding site we had found an unusual Female which got us into doing a literature search on the molt patterns of Sapsuckers. Coming up with little info on second year females with no red crown feathers, I sent Peter Pyle an email to see what he had thought about this bird. He quickly replied saying “I believe that the relative lack of red indicates a bird that molted more feathers earlier last summer and fall, before migration. I’m guessing that, due to hormonal maturation rates, later-molters acquire more red than earlier molters. I haven’t seen a female YBSA with quite so little red at this time of year, so thanks for sharing.”. If you look closer at the head shot you can see there is one individual feather that had molted back red. (We thought this was a very cool find for the station)!
Sapsucker and her Sap Wells.
Sapsuckers get their names by drilling rows of evenly spaced holes in trees. They drill through the bark and cambium layer in an oval shape in specific tree species. When the sap wells are flowing they drip with watery sap and attract many species of insects to these wells. Once they wells heal over, the sapsuckers will then redrill the same wells year after year. A large part of the sapsuckers diet is ants but they also actively drink the sap as it flows from its wound. While reading the book “Bents”, they state that (BTW: They talk about captivity holding a few birds and what happens to them as their fact) “this fact affords evidence of an extremely strong character, in confirmation and support of the theory that when the yellow-bellied woodpecker taps trees for their sap he uses the sap as his principal article of food, and not primarily as a bait to attract Insects.” Speaking of attracting things to the sap, I have seen many other critters like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red Squirrel and other warblers using these wells for food. This is such an interesting ecosystem that follows these unique birds, now get out and look for some!
A Pine Sap Well up close.
I have obviously been holding back on posting these pictures on the blog but I just knew that I wanted to share them as a special post like this. I had fun putting this all together and maybe I can do some others like this as well. Not enough hours in the day and not enough time to do everything!! This photo below shows everyone how much pain I go through in taking these photos for everyone! Each good picture I take of woodpeckers includes 2 or 3 good hits by these guys (see below).