Those of us that regularly feed birds during the winter know that it is big news when a yellow-bellied sapsucker visits our feeders.  When one does appear, it invariably dines on sugar water housed in a hummingbird feeder poised to entertain a rare wintering hummingbird, grape jelly, or a bird pudding.  You can imagine how surprised retired wildlife biologist, John Jensen was when a male yellow-bellied sapsucker began dining every day on whole black oil sunflower seeds.

       We know that, on rare occasions, yellow-bellied sapsuckers will eat small bits of sunflower seeds, but never whole sunflower seeds.  It makes you stop and wonder why this particular bird has adopted this feeding behavior.

       John told me that he feels that it is possible that the sapsucker chose this feeder because it is fashioned from a log.  This indeed may be the case since yellow-bellied sapsuckers routinely feed while perched on the trunks and limbs of trees. 

       We really do not know much about the winter-feeding habits of this odd woodpecker.  We know that they drill holes in trees and eat cambium (inner bark) and the sap that wells up in these tiny reservoirs. However, the birds are also known cache seeds and nuts during the winter.  Why would they do this unless they eat them too?

       If you have a theory as to why this woodpecker is feeding on sunflower seeds, drop me a line.  In addition, I would like to know what yellow-bellied sapsuckers are dining on at your feeders this winter.




  1. Terry, we regularly see yellow bellies fed on manufactured suet. We also have seen them feed on scrub oak “logs” in which they feed on peanut butter and oatmeal mixture that we place in pre-drilled holes. I wish they stayed year around because next to flickers they are one of the most attractive woodpeckers.

  2. Enjoyed this post very much because a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has been visiting one of our feeders for the past few days.This is the first time I’ve seen a Sapsucker visiting. It comes often, stays for several minutes at a time, and appears to be eating black sunflower seeds, though I haven’t seen well enough to be sure. It feeds on a “woodpecker block” of mixed seeds that are largely black sunflower seeds, but there are others and may be fruits included. My husband has taken a photo of the Sapsucker on the feeder, and I’d be glad to send it, but didn’t see how to send it in a comment. Thanks very much! I always enjoy your blog posts. Sigrid Sanders, Watkinsville, GA

  3. This morning we saw a male sapsucker right outside our kitchen window, very close to the house. He was hanging on a Brome Nut Feeder eating Clinger’s Charms, a great no waste nut mixture. We live in Dalton now.

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