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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Cavity Makers

Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Sphyrapicus ruber

Red-breasted sapsucker perched on a tree branch
Red-breasted Sapsuckers are woodpeckers that breed in coniferous and mixed forests in western North America from Alaska to California from April to July. They are commonly found in mature forests with dense woodlands and forest edges where sap, insects, and fruits are abundant during the breeding season.

They forage in tree trunks and branches for sap, cambium, insects, and arthropods. They may also feed on fruits and berries, particularly in the late summer and fall.

Red-breasted Sapsuckers create sap wells by drilling rows of holes in tree bark, which attracts insects that they also consume. Their brush-tipped tongues are specialized for lapping up sap.

Courtship involves drumming on resonant surfaces, calling, and performing flight displays. Males and females engage in mutual tapping and chasing around tree trunks.

They excavate nesting cavities in live or dead trees, preferring deciduous species such as aspens, alders, and willows, typically at heights ranging from 2 to 15 meters, in forests, forest edges, and wooded streams. No additional materials are used inside the cavity.

Egg laying occurs from May to June, with females laying 4 to 7 white eggs. Both parents share incubation duties for about 12 to 14 days. After hatching, adults feed chicks with regurgitated insects and sap.

Chicks begin learning to forage by observing parents and attempting to peck at tree bark. As they develop, they gradually improve their foraging skills. They are vulnerabilities predation and competition for food.

Fledging occurs at around 23 to 28 days old. Continued adult guidance includes showing fledglings how to find sap wells and other food sources. Their diet evolves to include more solid food items like insects and fruits.

Red-breasted Sapsuckers are partial migrants. Northern populations migrate southwards along the Pacific Flyway, wintering in coastal regions from southern Oregon to Baja California.

Wintering habitats include coastal woodlands, riparian zones, and mixed forests. During winter, they forage for sap, insects, and fruits, with a preference for sap from a variety of tree species.

They leave their wintering grounds in early spring, typically from late February to March, and return north to their breeding territories.