Bird GuideWoodpeckersWilliamson's Sapsucker

At a Glance

A strikingly marked woodpecker of western mountains. May be found nesting in the same aspen groves as Red-naped or Red-breasted sapsuckers, but also occurs in pure coniferous forest. Quiet and inconspicuous at most times, although its staccato drumming and nasal mewing calls may be noticeable in spring. Males and females of this woodpecker look so different that they were first described to science as two separate species.
Tree-clinging Birds, Woodpeckers
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains
California, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Seems to migrate south along mountain ranges in fall, tending to winter at upper elevations, as far south as west-central Mexico. A few move to lowlands; has wandered as far east as Louisiana. Females may winter a little farther south than males, on average.


9 1/2" (24 cm). Male and female strikingly different. Male mostly black, with white wing patch, white rump, yellow belly, thin face stripes. Female has barred back, brown head; suggests Gila Woodpecker, but has black on chest.
About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A soft nasal churrr, descending in pitch.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Drum, Rattle, Scream


Higher conifer forests, burns. In summer found in mountains in conifer forests including spruce, fir, and lodgepole pine; also in aspen groves near conifers. Winters mostly in pine and pine-oak woodland in mountains. Even those few that wander to lowlands in winter are likely to be found in conifers.



4-5, sometimes 3-7. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 12-14 days.


Both parents feed young, carrying food in bill and throat; young are fed mostly ants. Young leave nest 3-4 weeks after hatching, may disperse from territory very soon afterward. Apparently 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 takes insects gleaned elsewhere in trees, sometimes catches insects in the air or on ground, and perches among twigs to eat berries.


Includes insects, tree sap, fruit. Eats many kinds of insects; ants may form a very high percentage of diet during breeding season. Also feeds heavily on tree sap, and eats some small fruits and berries.


Courtship displays include exaggerated floating and fluttering flight near nest site, and members of pair facing each other while bobbing and swinging heads. Nest site is cavity in tree, often in aspen, pine, or fir, usually 5-60' above ground. Favors trees with dead heartwood and live outer layer, and may return to dig new nest holes in same tree year after year. Excavation of cavity is by male.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Still fairly widespread, but habitat could be vulnerable to effects of climate change.

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 Williamson's Sapsucker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Williamson's 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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