Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is common throughout most of its range in North America, but not so much in Newfoundland. It is known to be a scarce breeder in western and central parts of the island, where scattered areas of hardwood forest (primarily birch) exist. It is presumed absent on the Avalon (which has limited hardwood) except during migration when it appears sporadically. The true range and abundance of this species on the island is somewhat of a mystery, however, since most potential breeding areas are isolated and almost never surveyed or visited by birders. Anecdotally, sapsuckers have been seen less in recent decades, even in areas where they were known to have bred in the past.
However, an interesting pattern of sightings on the southern Avalon started coming to light in recent years – especially in Trepassey where a report several years ago led birders to discover an apple tree that is covered in sapsucker holes and indicates years of visits. Several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been seen in Trepassey during spring and (to a lesser extent) fall in the past 3-4 years. Where they are breeding remains a mystery — maybe they head off to other parts of Newfoundland, or (as some have suggested) maybe a small population is making use of pockets of suitable habitat along river valleys on the southern Avalon.
A rash of reports on the southern Avalon (at least four individuals at Ferryland, Trepassey, St. Mary’s and Mount Carmel) this past week added a new twist to that conversation. Early for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (even in the Maritimes where they occur much more commonly), it was assumed that these were overshooting migrants that arrived on recent strong southerly winds rather than part of a more regular pattern. And maybe they are. But a visit to two yards in St. Mary’s (St. Mary’s Bay) where one male has been visiting for a week now, raised some interesting questions. Homeowners reported that sapsuckers have been visiting their yards and trees annually for at least a few years now, and the presence of old holes support those claims. One gentleman even reported seeing two last year. They generally stay for a few weeks, and then move on … but to where??
Newfoundland is a very under-birded and under-surveyed island … there is plenty left to learn. The range and abundance of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers is just one small part of a puzzle that has lots of missing pieces.