In Scope: Red-breasted Sapsucker



And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly and swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly over the earth in the open expanse of the heavens. ~ Genesis 1:20




Update: December 18th, 2013


    Today, I finally had my first good opportunity to photograph and take a video of our Red Breasted Sapsucker friend !  This afternoon, while I was outside, I heard a distinct tapping noise coming from the tree in our backyard.  I didn't recognize the sound as a sapsucker or even a bird at all, until I went to investigate and found him pecking away, extracting sap from the trunk of the tree !  What a sight !

    He continued his work while I snuck quietly passed him to go inside and get my camera.  When I returned I found him still in the tree, in almost the same spot as I had left him.  Here is a picture of him that I took this afternoon, but since I want to get some better ones to share with you all ~ I'll try to take more soon.

Here's our little sapsucker friend....

    What a beautiful gift to see such a lovely bird in our yard and be able to capture the moment.  Thank the Lord for His kindness in letting me see such beauty in our own backyard.

    Merry Christmas to all of you! 


In Scope


    It was a fine fall day in October this year and all in nature seemed to be announcing autumn's arrival.  My Mom, my sister and I were out on a walk with the dogs when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye I saw two red, black and white birds flit into the berry tree in our front yard.  These birds were much smaller than a pileated woodpecker and had definately too much bright red plumage to be our familiar woodpecker friends.  The bright red splash of color covered their head, neck and chest and was enhanced by the afternoon rays of the sun.

    Forgetting to be quiet, I called out to my Mom and sister to look, and I myself got closer to have a better look.  Thankfully, they stayed and were not very disturbed by our presence, but continued to gobble down the bright red berries on the tree into which they had landed.  Sure enough, as I took a closer look, my suspicions were confirmed ~ these birds were indeed Red-breasted Sapsuckers !  And two of them !  We had seen a sapsucker in our neighborhood years ago, but I had never seen one since, much less two at the same time.  It was an exciting experience of us and one I'll always remember.

    This season, I'm featuring this splendidly red clad bird in all its beauty as our 'Bird of Autumn'.  Although Red Breasted Sapsuckers live in our area year round, because they showed up in our yard for berries this fall, I've chosen to write about them in this seaon.  I hope you enjoy learning about sapsuckers and finding out how to attract this eye-catching species to your yard.  But first, let's learn some interesting facts about the Red Breasted Sapsucker.


Interesting Facts


    Did you know....

  • Sapsuckers are a benefit to hummingbirds in that they make holes in trees from which both they and their hummingbird friends can extract sap, hence the name 'sapsucker'.  Hummingbirds may become so dependant on this food source that they may actually follow sapsuckers around to all their sap holes to find food.

  • The Red Breasted Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in the Pacific Coast region that has both a red head and a red chest.  Of the three species of sapsuckers found in Washington State, the Red Breasted is the only one without a black band across their chest.

  • Apple trees are one of the sapsucker's favorite trees to drill for sap.  At one time, Sapsuckers were often considered pests in orchards.  Because sapsuckers drill so many holes in trees to tap into the sap flow, they can actually damage or weaken trees, making them more suseptable to disease and insect infestation.  However, sapsuckers very rarely actually kill trees and most healthy, established trees will not be overly affected by sapsucker damage.  Since sapsuckers are protected under the Migratory Bird Act, only humane, harmless methods can be used to deter them from damaging trees.

Feeding and Gardening For Sapsuckers


    There are many things you can do to attract sapsuckers to your yard and create a perfect habitat for these beautiful birds.  Its not as easy as putting out a feeder, but its still fun and rewarding.  You may even already have certain plants in your garden that sapsuckers love !

    If you are concerned that you may have a sapsucker problem, first find out if it really is a sapsucker doing the damage.  Sapsuckers are very methodical in their drilling of 'sap wells', or holes in trees.  Normally you'll see neat rows of holes all the way around the circumference of your tree.  If you see that your trees are weak or unheathly looking and you find that sapsuckers are the cause, you might want to skip the section on attracting them to your yard.

    If you aren't worried about sapsucker damage, then you can proceed to make your yard as pleasant for them as possible !  Personally, I've never seen the extensive damage that others have experienced.  We've not had a problem with sapsucker damage to the trees in our yard, and they are welcome any time they want to visit.



    Since sapsuckers don't usually visit feeders, we must rely on more natural food sources to attract them to our yards and gardens.  You can find a list of recommended plants below.


Gardening for Sapsuckers


    There are a variety of plants that you can use to attract sapsuckers to your yard.  Since sapsuckers are mainly tree sap eaters, as well as eating fruit and insects, fruit bearing trees are some of the best plants to attract them.  Here's a list of recommended sapsucker plants:

For Fruit and Sap

Apple trees (some of their most favorites !), Hawthorn, Dogwood and Sumac

For Sap Only

Willow, Birch and Oak

For Berries Only

Elderberries, Blueberries and Huckleberries


Zoom In: Species Profile

    The Red Breasted Sapsucker's scientific name is Sphyrapicus ruber.  This medium sized bird is slightly smaller than a robin and is about 8 1/2 inches long.  Both male and female of the species look alike.  They each have a red head and chest, black wings and back with a white barred pattern, conspicuous white patch on each wing, black tail and dusty 'dirty' looking yellow colored undersides below their red breast.  Young Red Breasted Sapsuckers are mostly brown with white wing patches.

    The call of the Red Breasted Sapsucker is a nasal sounding, "neeah" or "waaah" call.  They also use a sqeaky contact call to communicate with other sapsuckers.  To me the contact call sounds much like a wet rag being rubbed on a mirror or window.  They also use tapping and drumming sounds to communicate with other birds.

    The diet of the Red Breasted Sapsucker consists mostly sap, but also fruit and insects.  Their preferred habitat is coniferous woodlands, deciduous forests, orchards and riparian buffers.  They use a variety of woodland habitats in the winter, but prefer mainly coniferous forests or riparian buffers during the breeding season.


    Red Breasted Sapsuckers are cavity nesting birds.  The male and female work together to drill a hole into the trunk of a deciduous or coniferous tree.  They prefer aspens, cottonwoods, alders, or willows but fir trees may also be used as a nesting site.  The nest is usually constructed as much as 50 to 60 feet above the ground.  The female lays five or six eggs and both parents incubate the eggs and raise the young.

    The range of the Red Breasted Sapsucker is along the West Coast of North America, from British Colombia all the way down the coast through Washington, Oregon and California.  They are a year round resident in Western Washington and Oregon, summer residents in B.C, and year round, summer or winter residents in California depending which part of California they are located.


    This season I've created a Red Breasted Sapsucker coloring page for you to enjoy.  This free coloring page is available in PDF format.  Simply
click here, download, print and enjoy !


    As I was thinking about how the sapsucker extracts sap from trees for its food, I was reminded of Psalm 92:12-15 AMP which says,

    "The [uncompromisingly] righteous shall flourish like the palm tree [be long-lived, stately, upright, useful and fruitful]; they shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon [majestic, stable, durable, and incorruptible].
     Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our God.
     [Growing in grace] they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap [of spiritual vitality] and [rich in the verdure [of trust, love, and contentment].
    [They are living memorials] to show that the Lord is upright and faithful to His promises; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him."

    ~ Psalm 92:12-15 Amplified

   These are such awesome promises for those who love The Lord and walk righteously before Him.  Being righteous doen't mean trying to be perfect in our own strength, because that is impossible.  Isaiah 64:6 says that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags, so we cannot be right with God on our own merit.  Being righteous means that we are washed in Jesus' Blood, saved because of His sacrifice and are made righteous because of Him.  Then once we are saved, God helps us to live right before Him and do the good things He planned for us to do. I'll close with these thoughts:  One of my favorite scriptures is Ephesians 2:10 AMP which says,

    "For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live]."

    Thanks for joining me for another edition of In Scope.  Please check back this winter for another new article featuring our winter birds.  Happy Autumn!

    By, Jessi Wasell