Sapsuckers Tree Tapping

Red-breasted sapsuckers

In the trees, in the breeze, seek nature’s peace and bliss. —Anonymous

The afternoon silence was replaced with the sounds of faint tapping.  It was coming from the South Bank, a sound that was softer than that of a pileated or hairy woodpecker.  When I had turned to look, the tapping stopped.  I listened closely, my eyes scanning the tree trunks.  From across the woods, two small flashes of red danced like small flames around the trunk of a cedar tree.  It was a pair of red-breasted sapsuckers.

Red-breasted sapsuckers dancing around a cedar tree

The red-breasted sapsucker is a year-round resident of conifer and deciduous forests, river and stream banks, and orchards.  They are delightful company often traveling in pairs. Male and females look alike, they are stout, and medium-sized, and easily recognized by a dark red head and white eye spot, pale yellow belly, and black back with a vertical white patch.  The sapsucker is a species of woodpecker that, unlike a woodpecker, excavates many small holes in horizontal lines called “sap wells.”  When full, the sapsucker returns to drink the sap, which makes up the bulk of its diet.  As a bonus, insects trapped in the sap wells give the sapsucker additional protein and energy.  While they sometimes forage living trees—stumps, logs, and especially snags, are their favorite and they will tap, pry, and probe to find those hidden insects.   Now and then, they catch bugs in flight as well as eat salmonberries, and dine on suet.  During nesting season, it is usually the male who excavates the nest in a dead tree or branch.  He doesn’t add nesting material, but leaves just enough shavings for a cozy nest.  A single brood is raised.  The clutch contains four to seven, small white eggs.  Incubation is about two weeks, and the nestlings are fed insects.

A sapsucker hunts for insects

The red-breasted sapsucker has a variety of unique calls that range from sharp high-pitched bursts to squeaky chatter, to strident, drawn-out mewing.  My favorite though is their drum call with irregular clicks that sounds like a stick tapping against a tree.

Look to the trunks of dead trees and you might find their sap wells or maybe catch a glimpse of a sapsucker or two flitting around.  If you don’t see them just listen, and you might hear them calling. 

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