Bird GuideWoodpeckersRed-breasted Sapsucker

At a Glance

A very close relative of the Yellow-bellied and Red-naped sapsuckers, replacing them on the Pacific slope. It was considered to belong to the same species for some time, so differences in behavior have not been studied much until recently.
Picidae, Woodpeckers, Tree-clinging Birds
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Southwest, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Living in a relatively temperate climate, this is the least migratory of the sapsuckers. In Pacific Northwest, birds from interior may move to coast or southward; coastal birds may be permanent residents. Southern populations may move to lower elevations or short distance south in winter.


8-9" (20-23 cm). Body and wings like other sapsuckers, but head and chest all red. Birds in northern part of range tend to be darker, with brighter yellow below; farther south, head is paler red with hint of white stripes. May interbreed with Yellow-bellied or Red-naped sapsuckers where their ranges meet.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Soft, slurred whee-ur or mew, like call of Red-naped Sapsucker.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Drum, Rattle, Scream


Coniferous forest, aspen groves; in winter, also other trees. During summer on the northwest coast, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is often in forest of hemlock or spruce. Farther south in the mountains it is found in pine forest, always with a mixture of deciduous trees such as aspen, alder, willow. In winter some move south or into lowlands, occurring in deciduous or coniferous trees.



5-6, sometimes 4-7. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 11-15 days. Both parents feed young, bringing them insects, sap, and fruit. Young leave nest 23-28 days after hatching. Parents teach young the sapsucking habit, feed them for about 10 days after they leave nest. 1 brood per year.

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.


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.


Courtship displays include pointing bill up and swaying from side to side. Nest: Nest site is usually in deciduous tree such as aspen, alder, cottonwood, or willow, but also in firs and other conifers. Nest cavity is often high, may be 50-60' or more above ground. Both sexes help excavate. Often uses same tree in subsequent years, but not same nest cavity.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Populations have probably declined somewhat, owing to cutting of forest in northwest, but the bird is still fairly numerous.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Red-breasted Sapsucker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Red-breasted Sapsucker

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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