Yellow-bellied SapsuckerSphyrapicus varius

adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Garth McElroy/VIREO
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker



8 1/2" (22 cm). A furtive woodpecker mottled with off-white and black; male has red crown and throat; female has only red crown. Both sexes dull yellowish below. Immatures dull brown. In all plumages, distinctive mark is conspicuous white wing stripe, visible both at rest and in flight. Similar to Red-naped Sapsucker, but male lacks red nape patch, and red throat is enclosed by black; throat of female all white. Hybridizes with Red-naped in Rocky Mountains, where puzzling intermediates can be found.


Mewing and whining notes.


squealing calls
mews & drum
interaction calls
mews, nestling calls, & churr
drums #1
interaction calls and flight call


Young, open deciduous or mixed forests with clearings; on migration, visits parks, yards, and gardens.


Breeds from central Canada to Newfoundland, south to British Columbia, North Dakota, Missouri, and central New England, and in the mountains to North Carolina. Winters from Missouri east to New Jersey and south to Florida and Texas; also in tropical America.


This species, at least on migration, is the quietest of the woodpeckers; aside from a few squeaks and whines, it is mainly silent. It is also the least conspicuous, hitching around to the opposite side of the tree trunk when approached. Sapsuckers get their name from their habit of boring holes into the cambium layer or inner bark, letting the sap exude and run down the trunk. The birds wipe up or suck the oozing sap with their brush-like tongues. They return again and again to the same tree and also consume the insects attracted to the sap. Unfortunately, sapsucker holes damage trees and sometimes provide points of entry for fungus and other tree diseases.


5 or 6 white eggs in a tree cavity excavated by the birds.

Similar Species

adult male

Nuttall's Woodpecker

7-7 1/2" (18-19 cm). Similar to Ladder-backed Woodpecker, but with black cheeks and wider black bars on back; black and white areas more sharply contrasting.

adult male

Red-naped Sapsucker

8-9" (20-23 cm). A furtive woodpecker mottled with off-white and black. Male has red crown, nape patch, and throat, throat patch incompletely enclosed by black.

adult, Northern

Red-breasted Sapsucker

8-9" (20-23 cm). Smaller than a flicker. A shy woodpecker with long white wing patch; barred back; white rump. In adults, entire head, throat, and breast bright red, belly yellow.

adult male

Williamson's Sapsucker

9 1/2" (24 cm). Male has black head, breast, and back, white facial stripes, bright red throat, and large white wing and rump patches.


Red-headed Woodpecker

10" (25 cm). Whole head red, wings and tail bluish black, with large white patch on each wing; white underparts; white rump, conspicuous in flight.


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