Sapsuckers, Ginkgoes and Hummingbirds

A pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers spend the winter months hanging from my suet feeders but they have another feeding trait that annoys me. They drill holes in my tallest ginkgo tree.  Sapsuckers are the woodpeckers that make the series of small round holes that line up in neat little rows around the trunk of trees. From the holes, they lap up the oozing sap with their rough tongues and dine on any insects trapped by the sticky substance.

Our winter resident sapsuckers are migratory woodpeckers. They have now left Gloucester, following the sap trails to their northern breeding grounds in forested areas of Canada, the northeastern United State, and the higher elevations of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

And they’ve left me with a ginkgo full of holes. I’ve read that the holes do not damage a tree and are purely cosmetic. I’m not convinced of that. The holes they have made in this ginkgo are numerous.  When I hear their telltale Morse code knocking on the ginkgo, I often open the door and clap my hands to send them back to the suet or the woods. However, they know I’m all bark, no bite, and they rarely fly. They simply hide like a squirrel on the far side of the tree until I give up.

But in Mother Nature’s wisdom, she makes sure there is a reason for everything and order in her kingdom. She has taught me appreciation for these small woodpeckers for they provide needed sustenance for other creatures.  I have seen squirrels, insects, and other birds at those ginkgo holes at a time of year when food sources are scarce.  Widely known among bird watchers is the fact that hummingbirds arrive during the migration of sapsuckers. It is the sap and the insects that are trapped within that sustain the tiny birds until nectar flows from flowers.

The sapsuckers are long gone and the first hummingbird has arrived to feed on the ginkgo sap and insects, my newly mixed nectar and the blooms of our new Red Buckeye tree.  If a hummingbird could smile, I know he would.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

8 thoughts on “Sapsuckers, Ginkgoes and Hummingbirds

  1. I used to love watching yellow-bellied sapsucker and ruby-throated hummingbirds feed off the same tree!

    (Heck, I love saying the name “yellow-bellied sapsucker.” It sounds like a cowboy insult.)


    • Now that’s a sight I’d love to see. My birds don’t seem to overlap but I’ll keep watching.

      Yes, it does sound like a dirty, low-down scoundrel cowboy insult.


  2. Now this is really interesting to me. I don’t have ginkgo trees, and have never had a yellow-bellied sapsucker visit. I have loads of other woodpeckers though. I’m a bird lover so am always on the lookout. I have yet to see a hummingbird arrive but am watching and waiting! I’m in northern VA…and our area is just a bit different than where you are in Gloucester. I love the red head and throat on that yellow-bellied sapsucker;-)


    • We are 7b in Gloucester but some say it’s zone 8 now. With temps at 90 yesterday, I thought we were surely zone 8.

      My hummer only rested here for two days. I think he’s on his way to northern VA. Keep your nectar out!


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