Williamson’s Sapsucker. photo by Douglas Beall
Williamson’s Sapsucker. photo by Douglas Beall
Williamson’s Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) are generally found in the mountains of the western U.S. where they prefer forests of older coniferous trees.

Sapsuckers are a specialized group of woodpeckers that do not actually suck sap. After pecking neat rows in trees to cause sugary sap to flow, sappys lick it up with tongues tipped with stiff hairs. This also brings insects, which are gleaned by hummingbirds and warblers. The radically different plumages between the male and female so confounded 19th-century naturalists they thought the birds were of a different species. 

Male Williamson’s Sapsuckers begin to establish territories before females arrive on the breeding grounds. Courtship usually involves the male making a bounding flight on fluttering wings toward the female, perching beside her, and swinging the head side to side while giving staccato calls.

Males are very territorial at this time of year, chasing away other males. Their territory can be as large as 10 acres. They nest in cavities in trees, laying four to six glossy white eggs which incubate for 14-16 days and the hatchlings fledge the nest in three to four weeks. 

The Williamson’s Sapsucker took its name from Lt. Robert Williams, a surveyor who collected the first male in 1855. He traveled Central Oregon to conduct the Pacific Railroad Survey. A group of sapsuckers are known as a “slurp.” For more photos visit www.abirdsingsbecauseithasasong.com/recent-journeys.