Monday, December 1, 2008

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Woodpeckers are among my favorite birds, though I begin to wonder if every bird I encounter doesn't eventually fit into that category. The more I observe, photograph, sketch and read about each species, the more I appreciate their unique characteristics and behaviors, no matter how common or uncommon.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker is common in Tennessee during wintering months which for this bird spans September through May. This female visited me on our sunny and warm Thanksgiving day. Above, you can see her relative size, about 9", compared to the pine trunk she's feeding on. Males have a red throat patch while the females' throats are white.
She landed fairly close to me without a sound and immediately began her work, steadily pecking, so that my presence seemed of little concern. From the looks of the multiple lines of holes on the trunk of this tree, it must be a favorite. Sapsuckers are known to select trees that are diseased or damaged and this is a white pine. There are few pines in TN that aren't currently weakened by southern pine beetles due to previous years of drought followed by a season of ice storms and milder temperatures. These conditions stressed the trees and allowed the pine beetle populations to increase, causing a loss of many trees. Fortunately, this is a cycle that is expected to balance itself at some point.According to a Smithsonian report, the sapsucker's selective feeding has a nutritional bases. The sap of trees that are in poor health has a higher content of amino acids and protein.

The same report also gave some interesting information about the interdependence of other species on sapsucker activity. Among those who benefit from the excavation of sap, the Ruby-throated and rufous hummingbirds that breed in Canada may time their return to nesting grounds with peak sapsucker activity. When nectar plants are scarce, tree sap makes a suitable nectar substitute with comparable levels of sugar and nutrients.

A striking bird with her golden tint, black markings and red cap, the yellow-bellied sapsucker is considered a rare breeding bird in Tennessee's Unicoi Mountains, including the Great Smoky Mountains. I'm located in the TN river valley at the foot of these mountains.
Since this sapsucker landed on the tree at eye-level, I had a good view. It was fun to watch her diligent excavations and to see her scooting backward down the trunk before she finally departed. And even though the image below is a blur, I like seeing the relative size of her wing span, which Cornell measures at 13-16".
And on to the next tree.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #14 at Birdfreak.com to help raise awareness of the conservation of our world's birds.

20 comments:

  1. At my work there is a rather old grove of apple trees, and most them are totally riddled with sapsucker wells. It is quite amazing to see, really. I may have to post a picture of them one of these days.

    How fortunate to have the sapsucker within such easy access of your camera, and that it stayed visible for you!

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  2. thanks for sharing. I don't know a lot about birds except that I like to watch them. they facinate me. I wonder what it would be like to fly.

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  3. Great shots! Woodpeckers are among my favourites, too, and am often rewarded with visits from a Pileated Woodpecker or my favourite, the Northern Flicker.

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  4. A very interesting bird and a great series photos - I especially found the length of the wings interesting.

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  5. i love these...i find birds so hard to capture with my camera and you do it so well! i think i like the one with his head cocked to the side showing off his lil red cap the best.

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  6. At my parents' house we have been lucky enough a few times to watch a sapsucker followed around by an Anna's hummingbird! As soon as the woodpecker finishes a hole and moves on to the next, the hummingbird buzzes in to feed on whatever sap remains.

    You're right about favorite birds....When asked what my favorite bird is, I usually end up listing the last one that I've seen or read about!

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  7. It was nice reading all of your great information on the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker as you wove the info into your photo series. Thanks for teaching me something new.

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  8. Hey!
    Great sapsucker pics. Here in Athens, GA we just got a huge influx of these guys for the winter. More than I have noticed in previous winters. I wonder what that could mean..... Anyways, great work! Love the photos and watercolors. I am starting to dabble in photography myself! Looking forward to reading more!

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  9. The universe provides in mysterious ways and sends you what you need at that particular moment, and I needed that quote from Martha Graham! Thank you Vickie.

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  10. Awesome bird Vickie so when are you going to sketch her?? I find it amazing that most woodpeckers will completely ignore you and go on about their business. Make for great photo opportunities like you got here. great shots.

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  11. How lucky can you get? At eye level and too busy to be concerned with you! Wonderful captures and info. and it was amazing to see the wingspan she unforded.

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  12. Interesting post.. My parents get a different kind of Woodpeckers in their backyard. They are mostly black with some red and white. They are beautiful.

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  13. Thank you for avoiding the temptation to delete the last photo. Great series.

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  14. I learned last summer that butterflies that winter over as adults, such as the Milbert's Tortoiseshell, feed at sapsucker wells in the spring when they emerge on warm spring days.

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  15. Very cool - They pass through here , but I've never gotten any really good shots.

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  16. This is a bird that has been a little to quick for me to capture - your photos are wonderful! enjoyed all the info you provided about them as well!

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  17. Nice captured.
    Beautiful Woodpecker, so much different from what we have here.

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  18. Great post, vickie.
    I like the sequence of pics. Woodpeckers are one of my favourite groups of birds after owls. I miss the name 'woodpecker' in its common name!

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