Birds – Yellow-bellied Woodpecker

(Sphyrapicus varius) Woodpecker family

Called also : THE SAPSUCKER

Length—8 to 8.6 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.

Male—Black, white, and yellowish white above, with bright-red crown, chin, and throat. Breast black, in form of crescent. A yellowish-white line, beginning at bill and passing below eye, merges into the pale yellow of the bird underneath. Wings spotted with white, and coverts chiefly white. Tail black; white on middle of feathers.

Female—Paler, and with head and throat white.

Range—Eastern North America, from Labrador to Central America. Migrations—April. October. Resident north of Massachusetts. Most common in autumn.

It is sad to record that this exquisitely marked woodpecker, the most jovial and boisterous of its family, is one of the very few bird visitors whose intimacy should be discouraged. For its useful appetite for slugs and insects which it can take on the wing with wonderful dexterity, it need not be wholly condemned. But as we look upon a favorite maple or fruit tree devitalized or perhaps wholly dead from its ravages, we cannot forget that this bird, while a most abstemious fruit-eater, has a pernicious and most intemperate thirst for sap. Indeed, it spends much of its time in the orchard, drilling holes into the freshest, most vigorous trees ; then, when their sap begins to flow, it siphons it into an insatiable throat, stopping in its orgie only long enough to snap at the insects that have been attracted to the wounded tree by the streams of its heart-blood now trickling down its sides. Another favorite pastime is to strip the bark off a tree, then peck at the soft wood underneath—almost as fatal a habit. It drills holes in maples in early spring for sap only. If it drills holes in fruit trees it is for the cambium layer, a soft, pulpy, nutritious under-bark.

These woodpeckers have a variety of call-notes, but their rapid drumming against the limbs and trunks of trees is the sound we always associate with them and the sound that Mr. Bicknell says is the love-note of the family.

Unhappily, these birds, that many would be glad to have decrease in numbers, take extra precautions for the safety of their young by making very deep excavations for their nests, often as deep as eighteen or twenty inches.