The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) is a colorful, distinctive woodpecker that frequents deciduous wood. Like most of our woodpeckers, adult sapsuckers are largely a patterned black and white, but with a bright red cap and (on males) a bright red throat, and a pale yellow wash extending from the sides of the neck down the breast and belly. Young birds have the black and white pattern only on the back, tail, and wings, with the head and underparts a smudgy brown.
This bird announces its presence with a number of different squealing or shrieking calls, but during the breeding season most commonly with its distinctive drum of irregular taps, performed on some resonant surface like a hollow tree, a metal sign, the metal flashing around a chimney, or even a propane tank.
Sapsuckers forage for food by pecking small, shallow holes in the bark of trees, usually in fairly orderly horizontal rows, to drink the sap produced, using their specially adapted brush-like tongue to do so. These birds also eat many arthropods, often insects attracted to their sap wells. These wells are also used by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Baltimore Orioles, and other species of birds.
Nesting and roosting sites are excavated in trees, often trees with rotted heartwood. Aspens seem especially favored for this purpose.
It used to be that this flashy bird was only found in our area in migration and winter, but over the past 20 years or so sapsuckers have expanded their breeding range south to Putnam County, and, very recently, to at least one location in northeast Westchester.
Photo credit: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]