Photo: Linda Huffman/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius

Although its name sounds like a cartoonist's invention, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does exist. This species is common in the north and east, and is replaced by close relatives in the west. Quiet in winter, it becomes noisy in spring, with cat-like calls and staccato drumming.
Conservation status Has disappeared from several southerly areas where it formerly nested, but still widespread and numerous.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Woodlands, aspen groves; in winter, also orchards, other trees. In summer mostly in mixed coniferous and deciduous woods, especially around aspens. May be found in any kind of woods or even dry brush in migration. Winters mostly in deciduous trees.
Although its name sounds like a cartoonist's invention, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does exist. This species is common in the north and east, and is replaced by close relatives in the west. Quiet in winter, it becomes noisy in spring, with cat-like calls and staccato drumming.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Drills tiny holes in tree bark, usually in neatly spaced rows, and then returns to them periodically to feed on the sap that oozes out. Also eats bits of cambium and other tree tissues, as well as insects that are attracted to the sap. Besides drilling sap wells, also gleans insects from tree trunks in more typical woodpecker fashion, and sallies out to catch insects in the air. Berries and fruits are eaten at all seasons, and birds may concentrate in fruiting wild trees in winter.


Eggs

5-6, sometimes 3-7. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 12-13 days. Both parents feed young, bringing them insects, sap, and fruit. Young leave nest 25-29 days after hatching. Parents teach young the sapsucking habit, feed them for about 10 days after they leave nest. 1 brood per year.


Diet

Includes insects, tree sap, fruit. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including many ants (taken from tree trunks). Also regularly feeds on tree sap, and on berries and fruits.


Nesting

Males tend to arrive on breeding grounds before females. Courtship displays include pointing bill up to show off colored throat patch; ritualized tapping at nest site. Nest site is cavity in tree, usually deciduous tree such as aspen, poplar, birch, 6-60' above ground. Often uses same tree in consecutive years, rarely same nest hole. Favors trees affected by tinder fungus, which softens heartwood while leaving outer part of trunk firm. Both sexes help excavate.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

One of the most migratory of woodpeckers. Essentially no overlap between summer and winter ranges. Northwestern breeders migrate east as well as south. Winters commonly in southeastern United States but also south to Central America, West Indies.

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Migration

One of the most migratory of woodpeckers. Essentially no overlap between summer and winter ranges. Northwestern breeders migrate east as well as south. Winters commonly in southeastern United States but also south to Central America, West Indies.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Mewing and whining notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Woodpeckers Tree-clinging Birds

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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