The engineer of these tiny holes that often circle the tree is a bird called a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Yes, I know this sounds like a made-up name but it really is the bird’s name, and actually, if you look at the bird and know its habits, the name is a fitting one, though they don’t actually SUCK sap, they lap or lick it.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are a kind of woodpecker. Unlike many of our other woodpeckers who are permeant residents, sapsuckers are migratory. They live in the eastern United States and Canada, traveling to the southern states for the winter and then in early spring, returning north to their breeding range.
Sapsuckers time their northern migration to the running of the sap. In winter, the trees store their sap in the roots, but when the temperatures begin to consistently be above freezing and spring is around the bend, the sap moves back up to the branches. The sapsuckers travel north, stopping along the way for days at a time, where they drill wells in trees and feed on the sweet sap that is there as well as the insects that are attracted to the sap. Eventually they move on and the holes in the trees scab over and no longer run with sap.
The wells of sapsuckers benefit many other species of birds–some 35 different ones, including the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Scientists have studied the relationship between the two birds and have discovered some remarkable things–which I will share in a post next week.
For now, check out this sapsucker visiting fresh wells. Or next week’s Puzzler.