Yellow-bellied sapsuckers make their spring debut

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a common species in the north and east, and is replaced by close relatives in the west. Quiet in winter, it becomes noisy in spring, with cat-like calls and staccato drumming. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Minnesota is home to many types of woodpeckers, but the yellow-bellied sapsucker has the best name out of all of them -- at least in my opinion.

They aren’t one you will often see at your bird feeder, but if you have young birch or maple trees in your yard and you live in the sapsucker’s range, you just might get to see one drilling its sap wells firsthand.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker inserts its bill into a hole in a maple tree to probe for sap. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

They are what the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources refers to as a short-distance migrant. Some of them -- often juveniles that haven't quite figured out what to do when it gets cold outside -- attempt to remain in the state throughout winter. They will feed on crab apples or other fruit in addition to seeds and suet at bird feeders.


A yellow-bellied sapsucker perches on the side of a maple tree on Thursday afternoon. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Those that do migrate, however, usually return to the north by late March, and then become a rather common sight and are quite vocal in some areas by mid-April.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers have been out in full force this past week in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

This has definitely been the case in my backyard this past week. We have three maple trees total and at one point I saw five sapsuckers on one tree at a time.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers have been found drilling sap wells in more than 1,000 species of trees and woody plants, though they have a strong preference for birches and maples, according to All About Birds. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)


The sapsucker is known for drilling holes in the trunks of trees and feeding on the sap that flows out of them. They then lick sap from these holes, and also eat bits of the tree tissue, as well as insects that are attracted to the sap.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker inserts its bill into a hole in a maple tree to probe for sap. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

The holes are often positioned so uniformly that the bark of a tree can appear to be punctured like a peg board, which would explain the many holes in our maple trees.

If everything going on in the world has you down, just go sit outside for a bit and watch the birds. It sure works for me.

Annalise is the editor and a photographer at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a Mass Communication graduate from Bemidji State University. Her favorite pastime is exploring the great outdoors and capturing its natural beauty on camera. Contact Annalise at (218) 333-9796, (218) 358-1990 or
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