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Nature Notebook – Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers

A yellow-bellied sapsucker was heard at the nature center last week. This bird should be down south with the other sapsuckers that migrated through Michigan last fall. Although uncommon, some individuals attempt to overwinter in the southern part of their breeding range. Mid-Michigan is at the edge of this range which extends north into Canada.

Sap, when it isn’t frozen in the trees’ cambium (aka, the water and sap tubes), is only a part of a sapsucker’s diet. Like other woodpeckers, the bird also eats insects…especially the ants that are attracted to the sap-filled holes drilled by the sapsucker. It will also chip off bark pieces to find spiders and other insects.

Individuals that stay north can substitute bird feeder suet for insects. However, unlike their compatriots (the red-bellied, downy, hoary and other woodpeckers), they won’t be interested in the seeds. Some will also seek out any berries that weren’t devoured during the fall migration. Poison ivy berries may be a lifesaver. Yes, there is a redeeming quality for that plant!