Photo: Frank D Lospalluto/Flickr Creative Commons

Williamson's Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus thyroideus

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.
Conservation status Still fairly widespread, but habitat could be vulnerable to effects of climate change.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat 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.
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.
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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 takes insects gleaned elsewhere in trees, sometimes catches insects in the air or on ground, and perches among twigs to eat berries.


Eggs

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


Young

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.

Diet

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.


Nesting

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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A soft nasal churrr, descending in pitch.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Williamson's Sapsucker

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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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