About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Overwinters in Michigan

Hi, Sarah ~ This is the first time I've ever seen this visitor in our backyard! Not the best pics, shot through a screen, but maybe the bird will return so I can get a few better ones next time. Would you agree with my identifying it as a female Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker? Are they somewhat uncommon in this area during the winter? We get a lot of Downy Woodpeckers, as well as Hairy and Red-bellied. I've also caught a glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker in our yard! ~ Deb

Lucky!! Mid-Michigan is at the very edge of the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers’ breeding ground. I usually see them only for a brief time in the spring right before the hummingbirds show up. Most migrate further north to nest in northern Michigan, across Canada and some of the northeastern states.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is migratory. In September, sapsuckers head south. Almost all leave the summer range and winter in the southeastern United States, the West Indies, and in the middle and high altitudes of Central America as far south as Panama. Females depart first and adult males last. Migration is primarily at night and often in flocks. Females typically travel the furthest south. But a few individuals might remain throughout the winter in mid-Michigan.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius is a little larger than the Downy Woodpecker. Although named yellow-bellied, the light yellow feathers on the birds’ underside aren’t what most bird watchers will see first. They have black and white barring on the back, a wide white stripe on each black wing, a red crown, a black line through the eyes and a black bib. The males also have a red throat.

Yellow-bellied SapsuckerImage via Wikipedia
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
 They don’t suck sap but actually have a tongue that has a feathery edge to allow the birds to lap sap. Sap itself makes up only about 20% of the overall diet of this species, though at certain times, the figure can be 100%. Sapsuckers also consume insects, fruit, leaf buds, seeds and suet.

Other birds like the hummingbirds, kinglets, warblers, and waxwings can also take advantage of the sap wells that these woodpeckers drill, especially in the early spring before bugs and flower nectar are plentiful.

Last year there were 12 sightings of the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in Michigan during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Click HERE to see those results. If you’re curious, a total of 117 species were reported in Michigan during the 2010 GBBC. Those results are HERE

This year’s GBBC is February 18-21, 2011. Click click HERE to learn how to participate.

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Anonymous said...

we are in southwest michigan and we have a female yellow bellied sapsucker she usually shows up with the artic air and hits the suet we have a northern flicker also.

Anonymous said...

Such beautiful birds, I've been into all birds for a very long time. The Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker got my FULL attention about ten years ago while Phesant/Quail hunting in Holly Mi. (My home town) and this mutt I was hunting with rousted up a few birds from the ground, at least two Phesants and some others. I drew and shot hitting what I intended, a decently colored Phesant, but alas the spread of bird shot took a YBSS as well. I was surprised at how bad I felt about it. Before I even knew what kind of bird it was, just because it was so beautiful! A late friend of mine Franklin Allen I.D.'d the bird for me and since that day I only bird hunt with my camera. Sorry I have none to post at this time but I do have some great photos of birds, a growing family of foxes and many others. THE YELLOW BELLIED SAP SUCKER CHANGED ME…

A lover of God's creatures said...

We too have a yellow belly sap suckered in our back yard in sawyer mi we also have beautiful pillaged and downys, redirected woodpeckers. Our grandchildren love watching all the amazing birds we have. We are so blessed to just see them.