Yellow-bellied SapsuckerSphyrapicus varius

adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Garth McElroy/VIREO
juvenile
Arthur Morris/VIREO
juvenile
Arthur Morris/VIREO

Family

Description

Although its name sounds like a cartoonist's invention, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does exist. This species is common in the north and east, and is replaced by close relatives in the west. Quiet in winter, it becomes noisy in spring, with cat-like calls and staccato drumming.

Habitat

Woodlands, aspen groves; in winter, also orchards, other trees. In summer mostly in mixed coniferous and deciduous woods, especially around aspens. May be found in any kind of woods or even dry brush in migration. Winters mostly in deciduous trees.

Feeding Diet

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.

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, and birds may concentrate in fruiting wild trees in winter.

Nesting

Males tend to arrive on breeding grounds before females. Courtship displays include pointing bill up to show off colored throat patch; ritualized tapping at nest site. Nest site is cavity in tree, usually deciduous tree such as aspen, poplar, birch, 6-60' above ground. Often uses same tree in consecutive years, rarely same nest hole. Favors trees affected by tinder fungus, which softens heartwood while leaving outer part of trunk firm. Both sexes help excavate. Eggs: 5-6, sometimes 3-7. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 12-13 days. Both parents feed young, bringing them insects, sap, and fruit. Young leave nest 25-29 days after hatching. Parents teach young the sapsucking habit, feed them for about 10 days after they leave nest. 1 brood per year.

Eggs

5-6, sometimes 3-7. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 12-13 days. Both parents feed young, bringing them insects, sap, and fruit. Young leave nest 25-29 days after hatching. Parents teach young the sapsucking habit, feed them for about 10 days after they leave nest. 1 brood per year.

Conservation

Has disappeared from several southerly areas where it formerly nested, but still widespread and numerous.

Range

One of the most migratory of woodpeckers. Essentially no overlap between summer and winter ranges. Northwestern breeders migrate east as well as south. Winters commonly in southeastern United States but also south to Central America, West Indies.

Listen

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

Similar Species

adult male

Nuttall's Woodpecker

A California specialty, Nuttall's Woodpecker extends only a short distance into Baja and rarely strays to Oregon. Within its limited range, it is often common wherever oak trees grow. It may go unseen at times because of its habit of foraging among densely foliaged oaks, but it frequently announces itself with sharp calls. Despite its close association with oaks, it tends to dig its nesting holes in other kinds of trees, and it eats only small numbers of acorns.

adult male

Red-naped Sapsucker

A western bird, common in the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin regions. Very similar to Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and for most of the 20th century it was considered only a subspecies of that bird.

adult, Northern

Red-breasted Sapsucker

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.

adult male

Williamson's Sapsucker

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.

adult

Red-headed Woodpecker

This striking and unmistakable bird was a favorite of early ornithologists such as Alexander Wilson and Audubon. Often conspicuous because of its strong pattern, harsh calls, and active behavior in semi-open country, it tends to occur in small colonies. Although it migrates only short distances, little groups of migrants may be noticeable in early fall and late spring. Once a very common bird in eastern North America, the Red-headed Woodpecker is now uncommon and local in many regions.

Vireo

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