About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
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This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Vegetarian Vampire Bird

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius, ...
It is early afternoon and the trees are enjoying the autumn breezes blowing through their leaves. All of a sudden there is a nasal mewing "me-ah" and then a tree finds itself under attack.

The distinctive slow irregular drumming sound of the feathered tree vampire, also known as the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, can be heard as the bird bores shallow parallel wells. Nothing can be done to stop the bird as he laps up the blood (sap) that oozes out of the neck of the tree. The attack is rarely fatal for the victims but BEWARE, repeated attacks can shorten a little tree's life.

Look for the blood red crown:
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 blood red crown, a black line through the eyes and a black bib. The males also have a red throat.

Sap itself makes up only about 20% of the overall diet of this species, though at certain times, the figure can be 100%. They don’t suck sap but actually have a tongue that has a feathery edge to allow the birds to lap sap. 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 during migration.

According to AllAboutBirds.com, “The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males.”

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