Nov 30 2009
My husband and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family in southeastern Virginia. Needless to say, I went birding several times while there and every time I did I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker.
When I told my husband this was the Best Bird on my outings he remarked that it has the sort of name you’d invent for fiction. Imagine a British comedy in which a bird watcher (a.k.a. “twitcher”) arrives for tea and discusses the bird he’d like to see on his trip to America. “Yellow-bellied sapsucker,” he says. Right. Everyone laughs.
Weird as it seems this woodpecker is well named. Mostly black, white and red he has a yellow wash on his belly and he eats sap.
Sapsuckers drill horizontal rows of small holes in tree bark, then return to sip the sap that wells up in them. On my walks in Virginia they chose southern pines for this meal. In Pittsburgh they seem to prefer maples.
Sap sipping alone would not have won my Best Bird award last weekend. What impressed me was the cavalier way in which one of them ate poison ivy berries, tossing them in the air and catching them in his beak.
Pretty cool bird … or was he imaginary?
(photo by Chuck Tague)