the bird that forgot to migrate

You really shouldn’t be here, little Yellow-bellied Woodpecker.  The sap in the trees has long since frozen, and insects are nowhere to be found on a cold Minnesota winter day.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker trying to feed on walnut sap in December in MN

The bird looks at first glance like a spotted version of a downy or hairy woodpecker, but I think this is a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, trying to get the sap to flow in a walnut tree on a cold December morning. The temperature outside was -1 F.

Getting no result from drilling the tree, the bird moved on to my suet feeders, which were full of nutritious peanut suet.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Either the bird was very hungry, or it really liked the taste of this peanut suet, because it spent 15-20 minutes drilling holes in this suet log.

After growing up in a northern Minnesota or Canadian forest dining on tree sap and insects, this bird should be basking in the warmth of southeastern U.S. , Mexican, or Central American temperatures right now.

By Cephas (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sapsuckers drill a series of sapwells, which they probe daily to keep the sap flowing.  The sap attracts insects which add to the birds’ nutrition. Birches and maples are most often tapped, but Sapsucker holes have been reported in more than a 1000 tree species in the birds’ summer and winter ranges.

But if sap is not available (which it would be if this bird had migrated to its normal winter range), sapsuckers can subsist on suet, but rarely come to bird feeders for seed.  With such limited dietary choices, it seems like a bad idea for this bird to stick around in this area.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker juvenile

I hope you make it little bird.

4 thoughts on “the bird that forgot to migrate

  1. Oh, no. That bird needs an intervention – or a ride south. I haven’t seen any of them around here in months. I know they can survive the cold if food is available, but I still worry for the poor little guy.

  2. Pingback: Another misplaced migrant | Back Yard Biology

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