Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are migratory, and they are the only woodpecker that lives in northern Illinois that does not have at least some part of its population present all year, Wildlife Illinois reports. They typically arrive in northern Illinois in April and May, on their way to their breeding grounds further north, and then pass through again in September and October on their way to their southern winter grounds.
These sapsuckers aren’t regular visitors to backyard feeders, although you may have some luck attracting them if you put out suet. One reason they don’t visit bird feeders that often is because, true to their name, sapsuckers suck sap from trees. Sap is actually one of their main food sources, although they also eat insects and fruit, Cornell Lab reports.
To get at the sap in the trees, they drill wells into the inner part of the trunks. Their holes are well organized, with several wells drilled in neat horizontal rows, according to Cornell Lab. Once the holes are drilled, they will return periodically to lick the sap and also eat plant tissue called cambium. Their preferred trees are those with high sugar concentrations in the sap, including hickory, red maple, sugar maple, paper birch and yellow birch trees.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are medium-sized woodpeckers, about 8 inches to 9 inches long. Both males and females have yellow bellies, red crest patches and white wing patches that look like a long white stripe on their folded wings, Wildlife Illinois reports. Males have a red throat patch, while females have a white throat patch.
Their preferred habitat is young deciduous forests, although they will also visit coniferous forests and older hardwood forests, Cornell Lab reports. Because they drink the sap from trees, they’ll often be spotted sitting on tree trunks for long spells while eating.
Sapsuckers often choose to nest in the same trees they drill into for sap. Like some other woodpecker species, they look for diseased trees with fungal infections because it makes excavating a cavity easier, according to Cornell Lab. They will reuse their nests over and over, sometimes for as long as seven years.
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