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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Yellow Belly? Real, Funny (for the Week of Nov. 25, 2007)

November 16, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: "Yellow-bellied sapsucker." Is that a real bird?

A.: Yep, it sure is. It's a small, shy woodpecker that lives in North America. And it sure has a funny name. Part of the name comes from how the bird feeds. It pecks holes in tree trunks and then eats or "sucks" up the sap that drips out. In fact it laps up the stuff with its tongue. So maybe its name should be saplapper. Ha!

The name comes, too, from how the bird looks. It has indeed a yellow belly. OK, yellowish. Faintly yellowish. Definitely faintly yellowish. Plus yellowish, too, on the back and the chest. So maybe its name should be yellowish-bellied, -backed and -chested saplapper. Eh? Eh.

The name of a bird is often a clue to what the bird does (like lapping/sucking sap), what it looks like (like having a sort of yellowish belly), where it lives, even who named it.

For instance, what can you tell about the red-gartered coot, the Fiji whistler, the Mrs. Gould's sunbird, the nukupuu?

Next: Beware the flying steamer duck!

Ashy drongoly,


P.S. Like birds? Try a 4-H birdwatching project! In my home state, Ohio: "Ohio Birds," #621.

Notes: The answers, respectively, are: has red garters, is a coot; lives in Fiji, whistles; probably knows Mrs. Gould; tends to nukupuu. All this deals with common names, not scientific names, the latter of which in the case of the yellow-bellied sapsucker (ba ha ha ha ha ha heeee!) is Sphyrapicus varius, which isn't half as funny. Sources included the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,; the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,; and a totally cool, totally total list of the world's birds' common names in English,

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at


Kurt Knebusch