Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)

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Red-breasted sapsuckers are a medium sized woodpecker with a distinct red head and breast. There are four species of sapsuckers in North America. The red-breasted sapsucker is the only one present on Vancouver Island. Three of the four sapsuckers species are thought to have originated from a single species that became separated by ice sheets in the last glacial period as well as geographic barriers that divided the population, resulting in the evolution of three different species.

Unlike most woodpecker species that drill holes to forage for insects, sapsuckers are known for drilling holes in tree bark to feed on the sap. Red-breasted sapsuckers eat insects as well but sap makes up a lot of their diet. They typically drill a series of shallow holes in tree bark which they lick the sap from. They are known to defend their extensive sap well systems from other species such as the Anna’s hummingbird.

The red-breasted sapsucker is widely distributed throughout the coastal mountains and large islands spanning the west coast of BC. It’s range also expands east towards the interior of BC in the center of the province. They breed throughout their range, nesting in deciduous tree cavities near water bodies. Red-breasted sapsuckers favour low elevation western hemlock and Douglas-fir dominated forests.

For more information, visit the BC Breeding Bird Atlas and All About Birds by the Cornell Lab.

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