The sun is out and the days are growing warmer, slowly signaling the migratory birds to return to High Park. This week, we were excited to see our first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker of the season! These beautiful spring migrants are mostly dressed in black and white but also have some pretty bold patterns on their faces, and pale-yellow underparts. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers get their name from their habit of drilling holes into the cambium layer or inner bark, letting the sap ooze out and run down the trunk of the tree.
Once a hole has been drilled, these birds will wipe up or suck up the oozing sap with their brush-like tongues. They will return again and again to the same tree because they can also consume the insects that were attracted to the sap. These sapwells won’t just attract insects, but other animals, like bats, squirrels, porcupines, and other birds, who are also looking to enjoy some of the nutritious sap. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been found drilling sapwells in more than 1000 different species of trees and woody plants, but they seem to have a strong preference for birches and maples.
In addition to drilling these sapwells, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers will also excavate nest cavities that often provide nesting or roost sites for other species of birds and even some mammals that cannot excavate their own.
The important role that these birds play in creating shelter and providing feeding opportunities for other animals have led many to think of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as a keystone species.
Keep an eye out for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers on your next High Park visit!