Hello Mr. Sapsucker

I’ve been excited in recent weeks to see a few uncommon bird species at the feeders. First, the tiny and excitable ruby-crowned kinglet, one of last year’s surprise visitors, returned, and then the brown-headed nuthatch, common to the pine forests of the Midlands and Lowcountry, showed up too.  Most exciting of all, though, is a male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), the first of his kind to visit the garden.


Mr. Sapsucker, puzzled but not ready to give up.

Mr. Sapsucker, a stocky woodpecker with a stout, dark bill and a brilliant red crown and throat, seemed at a loss when he first arrived. He would cling for long minutes to the feeder of black oil sunflower seeds, but couldn’t figure out what to do next (probably because the feeder was nearly empty).  Finally, he discovered the suet feeder filled with my homemade recipe, and now he’s a frequent visitor.


Female northern cardinal at the safflower feeder.

Of course, offering a variety of foods will always draw the most species of birds. In my garden, safflower seed is favored by the titmouse, Carolina chickadee, and northern cardinal, while black oil sunflower seed lures wrens, sparrows, finches, nuthatches, and some woodpeckers.  Thistle is the favorite of goldfinches, who are just beginning to exchange their winter drab for spring’s bright yellow plumage.


It’s suet, however, which is the object of the large woodpeckers, as well as the small and sprightly Carolina wren (in the photo above with a red-bellied woodpecker at the suet feeder). Regular readers will have seen this before, but for newcomers, here’s my tried and true recipe for homemade suet.


Easy-to-make homemade suet is a bird magnet!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Suet

For three cakes, mix one cup lard (or shortening) and one cup crunchy peanut butter until soft, and then add one cup whole wheat flour, and two cups each of plain cornmeal and uncooked quick oats. Finish by adding a handful of raisins.  Cakes can be easily formed in plastic sandwich containers (lined with wax paper), or the mix can be spread on tree trunks, branches, and pine cones.

Linking this post to Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday at My Gardener Says, where other gardeners and nature lovers are sharing their wildlife experiences today.

33 thoughts on “Hello Mr. Sapsucker

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Christina–Photos of the feeders are taken through the kitchen window, so it’s particularly hard to get a sharp focus. These tell the story, though, so that’s the important thing.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Deen–There is a squirrel baffle on the pole just below the feeders. The squirrels get nearly everything that falls on the ground, though, so there’s not much left for the doves and other ground feeding birds.

  1. Tina

    Great photos and congrats on your Sapsucker friend. We have similar bird species, though I’ve never seen a Sapsucker in my Central Texas garden. Thanks also for the suet recipe–I’ll try that as I’ve never made my own and really, I should. So glad you joined in with Wildlife Wednesday–what a treat!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Jessica–I had never noticed sapsuckers until this one showed up at the feeder. I knew from the bill he was a woodpecker, but I couldn’t get to my bird books fast enough to learn more.

  2. Sandra Smith

    Love seeing your birds! We’re in FL so miss the winter birds of NC, but the tropical one here are nice, too. Also miss seeing you!

      1. Sandra Smith

        Yes, we will return to NC in early April. Hope all the new Spring flowering things I planted in the fall in my “front” garden haven’t finished blooming by then. All the wonderful gardens we’ve visited together inspired me to put in a short wall and get busy planting.

  3. Judy Vick

    Loved your beautiful pictures ! We are lucky to have all those in our yard here too ! Since our yard is part of the NWF “Backyard Habitat” program, we keep a list of all the species we identify here – we’re up to 48 so far ! We “downsized” in ’09 when my husband retired from Furman and moved only about 2 1/2 miles away, both near Furman. In our old yard, also a “Backyard Habitat” , we were up to 63 species ! so I’m always looking out for new ones. I buy the “Hot Pepper” suet blocks so the squirrels won’t eat it – but I’m sure I could make your suet recipe and just add a bottle of cayenne !

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pauline–My grandmother loved birds and passed her passion along to me. I don’t have much time to birdwatch in the wild, but it’s great to see them at the feeders when I’m working in the kitchen.

  4. Beth @ PlantPostings

    Thanks for the recipe for suet–I’ve been meaning to add it to the bird menu. I so enjoyed your bird photos! In the Midwest, the return of the Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers means the RT Hummingbirds aren’t far behind. Is that true in your locale, as well? Great post!

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Beth–the Yellow-Bellied Sapsckers are in SC year ’round, but we are at the cusp of their range. In Greenville proper, our zone was changed last year from 7B to 8A, so I guess having this species here is one more sign of global warming.

  5. Julie

    I can imagine your birds being delighted by your homemade recipe Marian, I haven’t eaten yet and bizarrely found that mouth watering myself! Really lovely shot of your Sapsucker, I wonder why the common name though?

  6. Shirley F.

    I’m trying the homemade suet since the ingredients are on hand and store bought isn’t nearly as yummy looking. Those would make a great gift for my birdfeeding garden friend who is so hard to buy for. The Sapsucker is very cool, we don’t have those here that I recall.

  7. gardeninacity

    I love the sapsucker – great photo! This is a bird that stops in the Chicago area just briefly while migrating north or south. We have other woodpeckers – downy, hairy, red-bellied, and northern flickers.


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