If you’ve hiked in the Puente Hills you’ve probably heard drumming on trees or noticed horizontal holes drilled into trees with sap flowing from them; all courtesy of a group of birds called sapsuckers. Sapsuckers belong to the bird Family Picidae that includes woodpeckers. There are about 200
species of picids worldwide, of which two species of sapsuckers, Red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) and the red-naped sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis), have been confirmed on Habitat Authority managed land.
The Red-breasted Sapsucker is a medium sized woodpecker with a red head, nape, throat and breast, cream colored belly, white rump and white moustache stripe. Preferring to drill sap wells in riparian species, they inhabit forest edges and woodlands. Breeding occurs from Alaska and British Columbia south to California and wintering grounds are located throughout most of their breeding range. They are cavity nesters and drill out new nest cavities typically annually. Their diet consists of sap, arthropods and some fruits.
Red-naped sapsuckers differ in that they have a red head and nape, cream breast and belly. They breed in the Rocky Mountains and winter in southern California typically along the edges of forests and woodlands, especially groves of aspen and alder. They are also cavity nesters and their diet consists of sap, arthropods and some fruits.
Sapsuckers use their strong bills to drill sap holes, collectively called sap wells, into living trees and eat the sap along with some insects that are attracted to, and get trapped by, the sap. The shape and size of the sap holes differs by species and the holes drilled in these pictures were likely made by the red-breasted sapsucker. These sap wells can also be an attractant for species like hummingbirds who eat the sap that the sapsucker keeps flowing. Large sap wells can cause extensive damage to trees leading to tree mortality while other times trees can heal themselves and continue growing. Not all activities of sapsuckers are problematic. Sapsuckers usually excavate new nests every year, leaving old nesting cavities for a variety of woodland/forest species to inhabit.
So when you’re out on the trail, keep your eyes and ears open for these wonderful birds!