Unique Winter Visitor

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a short-term winter migrant, visiting Georgia, among other southeastern states, on its travels.

by Peter Gordon, Director of Education, Elachee Nature Science Center

Among the most interesting wildlife that might turn up in your backyard are an array of short-term, short-range winter migrating birds. One of my favorites is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Unlike the neotropical migrants that winter in Mexico, the Caribbean and in Central and South America, short-range migrants will spend the cold season in Florida, Georgia and other southeastern states before heading north at springtime. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a short-term winter migrant, visiting Georgia among other southeastern states, on its travels.

Although this bird nests in the mountains of north Georgia, most of us only see or hear the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in our yards during the winter months. Like other woodpeckers, the sapsucker is an amalgam of red, black and white with a wash of yellowish green on its stomach.  Males have a red throat. Females do not.

In the trees, Sapsuckers are a bit more stationary than Red-bellied, Downy or Pileated Woodpeckers. This makes the Sapsuckers more difficult to spot. Look for a maple, tulip tree, sweetgum or other nearby soft-barked tree to see this bird’s unique handiwork: rows and row of meticulously drilled holes. Called sapwells, the birds will revisit these holes regularly to drink a natural ‘smoothie’ comprised of rich and nutritious sap along with any unfortunate insects trapped in it.

See the holes but can’t spot the bird? Listen for its soothing ‘mew’ call and then do your best to spot this elusive winter visitor. Good luck and good birding.

Looking for More Birding Experiences?

Elachee is hosting a Birding Hike as part of the nation-wide Great Backyard Bird Count 2018. Join us at Elachee Chicopee Woods Aquatic Studies Center at Chicopee Lake (DIRECTIONS) from 8-11 a.m., Saturday, February 17, 2018. You’ll help collect data on local wild birds for this annual, weekend long online citizen-science project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.