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© Hilton Pond Center

© Hilton Pond Center

The trunk (left) of an old Pecan Tree (Carya illinoiensis) at Hilton Pond Center shows row after row of scars from wounds inflicted at least 20 years earlier. The smooth bark of a younger Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) has similar damage, and sap is beginning to ooze from some of the holes. These horizontal lines of quarter-inch holes are tell-tale signs that a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (below) has been in the spending the winter.


© Hilton Pond Center

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) is a specialized woodpecker that eats sugar-laden sap dripping from holes it has systematically drilled into tree trunks. Mature trees are seldom damaged permanently, but saplings can be girdled by sapsucker work and eventually die. "Sapsucker wells" are visited by many bird species, including hummingbirds that arrive early in spring before many plants are in flower. The sap provides quick energy, but the tiny insects it attracts are also an important source of fat and protein for hummers that have just completed an exhausting 1,500-mile migration flight. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also migrate, spending the winter months in the U.S. and the breeding season in Canada, the Rocky Mountain states, or at higher elevations in Mexico. Their cat-like "mewing" call is quite distinctive.

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.