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Nature In The Natural State: Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers And Sapwells

My yard has a winter visitor. For the last several days, I’ve watched a yellow bellied sapsucker outside my window.

From less than two feet away, I’ve seen his red-capped head as he has created and enlarged “sapwells” in the trunk of a holly tree, about two feet off the ground. Sapsuckers make two kinds of holes in trees—narrow round holes extending deep into the tree, and shallow rectangular holes that must be maintained for sap to flow. My visitor licks up the leaking sap, which continues to run for awhile after he leaves the tree. He also eats the cambium of the tree, and any insects within the sap.

Although sapsuckers prefer birches and maples, their sapwells have been found in more than 1000 species of trees and shrubs.