As a child growing up in Northern Ontario, one of my favourite animal names was undoubtedly the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. Go ahead and say it out loud without smiling…I bet you can’t do it. You have to admit, it is just plain ol’ fun to say. As much as it is to say their name, we are going to have even more fun learning about these unique birds. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is found throughout North America, however, they have different ranges depending on the season. For example, this bird is smart enough not to brave the cold Canadian winters so they tend to head south to the States and Mexico during the colder months. Considering we want to study this animal on February 21st, 2012…this means we need to take a trip to the sunny south.
An Integral Role in the Ecosystem
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is actually a type of Woodpecker and just happens to play a major role in their ecosystem. In fact, some people have indicated that if you were to remove this little bird, the ecosystem would collapse (or at least radically change). Why are they so important? Well, when these birds feed, they will drill holes into a tree before sucking out the sap, hence their name. These holes provide a valuable source of food for other critters in the area, mainly birds that love exploiting these sap producing holes.
The Complex Driller
Interestingly enough, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker will actually drill two different types of holes. The first are small, round holes that extend deep into the tree, in which the sapsucker will stick their beak all the way in to remove the sap. The second is a rectangular, shallow hole that needs to be constantly worked in order to reap the benefits. It is typically these holes that other animals will exploit for food. As well, this little sapsucker will typically make new holes that are in line with older holes. I guess it is sort of like prospecting for gold….well, for sap in this case. Who would have thought that the feeding habits of the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker would be so complicated?
A Sign of Intelligence?
You may have seen this woodpecker banging its beak against a sign or some other man-made structure. No, this bird isn’t confusing that structure for a tree. In fact, these intelligent birds have recognized that artificial structures such as metal signs will amplify their sound. Therefore, they will return day after day to this amplifying structure in order to get their message out to as many birds as possible. Luckily, we have not yet documented any harmful effects from this practice but you would think the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker would at least get a headache from all that racket.