Photo of the Week: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

You may be surprised to learn that there are not one, but five, different species of woodpeckers that grace New York City's five boroughs. Some of them are year-round residents (die-hard New Yorkers!) and others make their way to the city during annual migrations. We were thrilled to spot one of these overwintering feathered friends – a yellow-bellied sapsucker – on the High Line this past week.

"Yellow-bellied sapsucker" might sound like the kind of insult you hear hurled from a passing taxi during rush hour, but it is the actual common name of a species of woodpecker, Sphyrapicus varius. They get their odd common name from the color of their plumage (a light yellow color on their bellies) and their mode of eating (lapping up tree sap).

A shot of the male yellow-bellied sapsucker we saw on the High Line between West 21st and West 22nd Streets. You can tell this is a male by his red “beard."

The yellow-bellied sapsucker we spotted had alighted an Eastern redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, and was feeding. He then nibbled on a few neighboring berries before he was chased away by a mockingbird (notoriously territorial birds). SEE VIDEO of the mockingbird and the sapsucker together.

To some, yellow-bellied sapsuckers may be considered nuisances due to their tendency to feed on live trees, but these birds are incredibly important to the ecosystems they live in. Considered a "keystone species," sapsuckers play a critical role in their habitats, coincidentally providing food and shelter for other animals and insects through their day-to-day activities. Sap "wells" they drill to feed from later provide sap for butterflies, hummingbirds, and other sap lovers. Their old nests become homes again the following year when other cavity-nesting birds are looking to raise their own brood.

Outlined here are examples of "sap wells," places where sapsuckers have fed. These wells were found on a birch tree on the High Line's Tiffany & Co. Foundation Overlook, at Gansevoort Street.

Along the High Line, we're always happy to see birds, butterflies, and more make use of our park in the sky. It's proof – especially in an increasingly concrete jungle – that planted spaces of all sizes can provide much needed habitat for New York City's wildlife.

Next time you're at the High Line, keep your eyes peeled for other birds, including some regulars. Tag @highlinenyc on Twitter or Instagram with any interesting birds you see in the park – we'd love to know what you find!

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