Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are woodpeckers. Unlike red-bellied, downy, hairy, and red-headed woodpeckers they’re not year round residents in our area. They typically arrive in the Piedmont in October and depart by April when they head north or retreat back into our mountains to nest. You might see one or two a bit earlier or later than October or April, but those individuals are the exception.
Sapsuckers drill small, neatly aligned holes or wells into the bark of trees. The holes fill with sap. The sapsuckers suck the sap. The sap also attracts other birds as well as insects. The sap and insects are in turn eaten by the sapsuckers and other birds drawn to the wells.
The sapsucker in the above photo was seen from the Red Wolf Overlook. I see them every year on the same tree, an elm, just thirty feet or so from the overlook. While standing at the exhibit, look to your right about 45 degrees, you may see the bird yourself.
If you were wondering how to tell the difference between a sapsucker and one of our year-round woodpeckers, here’s some hints. Sapsuckers almost always appear dingy. They don’t have the crisp black and white markings on their backs as do most of our local woodpeckers. But, they do have one marking which is often seen on birds propped up on the side of a tree working the wood. Their wings have a long white mark which the other local woodpeckers do not have.
Keep an eye out for these winter visitors from the north. One more thing, sapsuckers emit a cat-like mew sound. If you hear a noise coming from the surrounding trees, a noise that sounds somewhat like a cat, it just may be a yellow-bellied sapsucker.