Mendocino Coast Audubon Society logo Mendocino Coast Audubon Society

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

Chances are youíve seen evidence of this woodpecker even if you havenít seen the bird. Sapsuckers are the ones that drill a series of tiny, square holes on the trunks of trees. They are aptly named, for they return to drink the sap from these wells and to eat insects trapped there. Red-breasted sapsuckers look like someone held them by their feet and tipped their head in crimson paint. Their head, neck and chest are red with a pale yellow belly and black back, speckled with white. They have distinct white wing patches and a white rump and are eight and a half inches high. They are one of the few woodpeckers in which the sexes look alike. Juveniles are brownish.

Their cousin is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which lives on the East coast. Like other woodpeckers, Red-breasted Sapsuckers have two toes in front and two in back. They have stiff tail feathers which prop them against the side of trees. The sapsuckerís tongue is relatively short and has fine hairs on the end to collect the sap. Warblers, hummingbirds, and kinglets also feed at their holes.

During springtime courtship, there is much calling and drumming: the sapsuckers rapidly hammer their bills on a resonating tree. The breeding pair drums duets on the selected nesting tree. The nest is a hole usually dug in a live deciduous tree. It can take them two weeks, working together, to excavate the hole. The nest is lined with wood chips and both parents take turns incubating the three to six white eggs for two weeks. Young stay in the nest for a month.

First published MCAS The Whistling Swan June 2012
Red-breasted Sapsucker Photo Ron LeValley www.LeValleyphoto.com