Drilling wood

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker pauses to have a look around while drilling wells in an elm in the Red Wolf Enclosure. A half-dozen or so fresh wells are visible to the woodpecker’s right.

There are four species of sapsucker in North America, Yellow-bellied, Williamson’s, Red-naped, and Red-breasted Sapsuckers. Being woodpeckers they all make their living by drilling holes in wood. Sapsuckers specialize in drilling shallow wells, often in neat little rows, in living trees in order to suck the sap that eventually fills those wells. They also take insects which are attracted to the sweet tasting sap.

Although the summer range of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker stretches from the Maritime Provinces of Canada to Alaska, it’s the only sapsucker that can be seen in the east, and then only from October to April, give or take a few weeks on either side.

The bird in the photo is working an elm just inside the Red Wolf Enclosure and should visit the tree regularly to sip sap or drill more wells. While standing at the Main Overlook the tree is about thirty feet inside the fence and about 45 degrees to the right. If you happen to be at the wolf exhibit and you don’t see the bird but you hear a mewing sound, have another look, the woodpecker’s nearby.


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