Bird of the Week, July 19, 2013,
Red-breasted Sapsucker


Red-breasted Sapsuckers by Tom Grey


An important “keystone” species, the Red-breasted Sapsucker often provides food and shelter for a variety of other wildlife through its feeding and nesting habits.


Like other sapsuckers, the Red-breasted Sapsucker drills a series of shallow holes in the outer bark of a tree and feeds on the sap that wells up. The birds create elaborate systems of these wells and maintain them to ensure constant sap production. Because of this large investment in maintenance, sapsuckers defend wells from other sapsuckers, as well as from other species.


Many hummingbird species take advantage of sapsucker wells; the Rufous Hummingbird has been observed following the Red-breasted Sapsucker around to feed at the wells that the woodpecker keeps open.


A pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers usually excavates a new nest cavity each year, leaving the old ones for other species of birds and mammals such as flying squirrel.


Red-breasted Sapsucker numbers may have suffered local declines because of habitat degradation and persecution as an orchard pest. Regional populations appear stable, but forestry practices that remove snags and older forests may decrease its abundance in particular areas.


You can help the Red-breasted Sapsucker and other birds by supporting our fundraising challenge, which launched this spring and is now drawing to a close. We urgently need your support to conserve Pacific Northwest forests and other critical bird habitats.



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Photo: Tom Grey; Range Map, NatureServe