Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Common sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius
Population size
14 mln
Life Span
6-8 yrs
35-62 g
19-21 cm
34-40 cm

The Yellow-bellied sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker that is found across North America. The forehead is colored bright red in the male (and very occasionally yellow), and a lighter shade of red in the female. The throat and chin can be used to differentiate between the sexes, as they are white in the female and red in the male. The mantle is white, and there are irregular black bars that extend from it to the rump. The lower rump is white, and the upper tail coverts are white with some black webbing. The wing coverts are black, and there is a white panel on the medians and central greater-wing coverts. The flight feathers are black with white tips. The upper tail is black, with some white webbing and white tips sometimes being present on the outer feathers. The chisel-tipped bill of this bird is relatively short and straight, with a slate to blackish color. The legs are blue-grey to green-grey in color.


Yellow-bellied sapsuckers breed in Canada, eastern Alaska, and the northeastern United States. They winter in the eastern United States, West Indies, and Central America. These birds are generally found in deciduous and mixed coniferous forests and may also be found in open woodlands, and semi-open habitats. They are also seen at larger trees in pastures, clearings, suburban areas, and occasionally in palm groves.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are active during the day and spend most of their time near their sap holes or foraging. These birds usually forage by themselves; however, they sometimes join small groups in the winter and occasionally mixe into flocks of insect-eating birds in the winter. Insects are usually caught by perching on a tree branch or on the ground. Before feeding consistently on a tree, Yellow-bellied sapsuckers lay down exploratory bands near a live branch. These bands are laid down in horizontal rows. When the bird finds a proper tree it lays down more holes to feed, about 0.5 centimeters (0.20 in) above the primary bands. These form columns. Each hole is then drilled further, with the sapsucker enlarging it vertically, making it yield more sap, but only for a few days. The top holes in each column thus provide phloem sap, and this sapsucker also utilizes the bast from the edges of the holes drilled. In the winter, when the holes are drilled on conifers, bast is likely the birds' most important food. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers use various calls to communicate with each other. Males usually produce a long distance nasal 'neaaah,' 'owee-owee,' 'wee-wee-wee-wee,' or 'kwee-urk' at the start of breeding to attract the mate to various places within their territory. When birds of a family group meet, they exchange low 'week week', 'wurp wurp', or similar low calls. A scratchy 'quirk quirk' is given when pairs meet at the breeding territory. When sapsuckers are alarmed, they will utter a soft mew call, getting louder and hoarser as the threat increases and during a conflict, they produce a shrill 'quarr'.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are generally carnivores (insectivores). They feed mainly on insects but also consume fruits, tree sap, and nuts. They also take bast from trees and occasionally berries and buds.

Mating Habits

10-13 days
5.5-6 weeks
4-7 eggs

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are monogamous and form pairs. The male usually arrives on the nesting grounds about one week before the female early in the Northern Hemisphere spring, often before heavy snowfall has stopped. The actual breeding season occurs from April to July. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers nest in pairs in a large cavity excavated in a live deciduous tree and both sexes work to make the nest. During nest excavation, the male may perform a courtship flight. This flight consists of the bird rapidly flapping its wings below its partner. It seems to build the pair bond and help increase attachment to the nest. Members of a pair also perform a dance where they bob their heads and repeatedly opening their wings halfway. They also have the courtship ritual of touching their bills together. Courtship additionally consists of giving 'quirk' notes and, from a distance, 'kwee-urk' calls. The female lays a clutch of 4 to 7 white and spotless eggs and both parents incubate them during the 10 to 13 days. When the chicks hatch, they are blind, naked and helpless. They are brooded for 8 to 10 days by both parents and after 25 to 29 days, the young leave the nest for the first time. They become independent after about 2 weeks and start to breed when they are 1 year old.


Population threats

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are common in their range. They are not considered globally threatened and do not face any major threats at present. Despite that populations of these birds are decreasing probably due to the loss of suitable nesting and feeding habitat.

Population number

According to Partners in Flight resource, the total population size of the Yellow-bellied sapsucker is around 14,000,000 breeding individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Because the feeding habits of the Yellow-bellied sapsucker can injure trees and attract insects, it is sometimes considered a pest. The birds can cause serious damage to trees, and intensive feeding has been documented as a source of tree mortality. Sapsucker feeding can kill a tree by girdling, which occurs when a ring of bark around the trunk is severely injured. Certain tree species are particularly susceptible to dying after being damaged by Yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Woodpeckers are found worldwide, except for Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Madagascar, and the extreme polar regions.
  • Woodpeckers can walk vertically up tree trunks, which is beneficial for activities such as foraging for food or nest excavation. In addition to their strong claws and feet, they have short, strong legs which is typical of birds that regularly forage on trunks.
  • The tails of all woodpeckers are stiffened, and when the bird perches on a vertical surface, the tail and feet work together to support it.
  • The Yellow-bellied sapsucker drums on materials that reverberate loudly, with drums starting as rapid bursts but becoming more drawn out as time goes on. The bursts usually last between 1,5 and 5 seconds. These drums were previously thought to be used to indicate the quality of a nesting or feeding site, but it is likely that they are used as a form of long-distance communication. Trees chosen to drum on are dead, and thus are not those used for feeding or nesting.
  • The primary food of Yellow-bellied sapsucker chicks is insects that parents sometimes coat in tree sap before feeding it to the chick. The chicks beg for food through vocalizations that can be heard 100 meters (330 ft) away or more, likely stimulating the adults to catch more food. These vocalizations are usually done by the hungriest chick, with the other joining in only when the parent is at the nest. Because of this, the hungriest chick always receives food first.
  • Excavation of the nest cavity is done mostly by the male and takes about 15 to 28 days; the further hollowing out is done already by both parents after the chicks hatch.


1. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on Wikipedia -
2. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on The IUCN Red List site -

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