Abaco has two permanently resident woodpecker species, the WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER and the HAIRY WOODPECKER. There is a third, migratory woodpecker species that is a fairly common winter resident, the yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius. Like its woodpecker cousins, the sapsucker drills holes in trees (see below). The dual purpose is to release the sap, which it eats, and to attract insects that it also eats. A two-course meal, if you like. They’ll also eat insects on an undrilled tree, and even ‘hawk’ for them in flight. They balance their diet with fruit and berries.
The distinctive patterns of sapsucker holes may completely encircle the trunk of a tree with almost mathematical precision. This is sometimes described as ‘girdling’ and may have a damaging effect on a tree, sometimes even killing it if the bark is severely harmed. This may require preventive measures in orchards for example, though note that in the US Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are listed and protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act so radical action is prohibited.
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER SOUNDS
DRUMMING (Xeno-Canto / Richard Hoyer)
CALL (Xeno-Canto / Jonathon Jogsma)
On Abaco, palms are a favourite tree for the sapsuckers. There are several palms along the Delphi beach, and this year I noted that one coconut palm in particular had seen plenty of sapsucker action, with the drill holes girdling the entire trunk from top to bottom.
In their breeding grounds yellow-bellied sapsuckers excavate a large cavity in a softwood tree as a nest. They mate for life, and often return to the same nest year every year, with the pair sharing nesting duties. I have no idea whether the pair migrate south for the winter together, or whether they agree to take a break from each other. I’d like to think it’s the former…
Credits: Photos Gerlinde Taurer, Tom Sheley, RH; Cornell Lab (Range Map) & Xeno-Canto (YBS recordings as credited above)
Species featured in ‘The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco’ by Keith Salvesen, pp 242-3