Photo: Linda Huffman/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius

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.
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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.

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

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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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.

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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.

Songs and Calls
Mewing and whining notes.