Red-breasted Sapsuckers lack the reinforced skull that the other woodpeckers mentioned in this section have. Sapsuckers have developed a different foraging strategy- they drill parallel sap wells on the surface of live trees, then come back to lap up the sap with their tongues and eat insects, primarily ants, that are attracted to the wells.
Sap wells are shallow holes drilled through outer bark to the underlying phloem or xylem tissues of the tree. They may even consume some of these tissues. They primarily use aspen, alder cottonwood and willow, plus some conifer for drilling sap wells.
Sapsucker tongues are specialized for consuming sap; they are shorter and less extensible than those of other woodpeckers and tipped with stiff hairs that allow sap to adhere.
Diet: Sap from wells, insects, especially ants. Occasionally flycatches (see flycatching slide) for insects, also eats fruit and seeds. Has been known to take ash, presumably for minerals.
While sapsuckers maintain their sapwells year-round and defend them voraciously, other birds & mammals do get in. As you can see (image above), this female Rufous Hummingbird is taking sap from a sapwell.