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.
Learn more about these drawings.

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.
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

Williamson's 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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