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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius

Length: 8.5 inches Wingspan: 16 - 18 inches Seasonality: Migrant / Summer
ID Keys: Long white stripe on wing, spotted back, stripes on face. Male have red throat, Females have white throats.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Sphyrapicus variusNot a Warner Brothers cartoon character, but an actual bird.  The closely related Red-naped Sapsucker is very similar, but ranges are distinctly different.  As the name implies, Sapsuckers drill a series of wells in trees and drink the sap that oozes forth.  They are often quite important ecologically for a given habitat, as several other animal species use sapsucker wells for feeding.  Male Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are quite territorial, and can often be heard banging out their territorial drumming.  They've come to learn that metal signs and other metal objects can amplify the drumming sound, and thus individual birds may return to a given sign time and time again in order to reinforce their control over a territory.  The photo to the right shows a male at a nest hole. Females are similar in plumage but lack the red on the throat.

Habitat:

Can be found in nearly any kind of forest during migration.  Generally in deciduous to mixed forest in the summer.

Diet:

Other than sap, eats insects attracted by their sap wells.  Also eats fruits and berries.

Behavior:

While much of the diet may be tree sap, they also often glean insects from branches as do other woodpeckers.  They also may catch insects in mid-air. 

Nesting:

Late May through July in South Dakota. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are cavity nesters, building their nests in trees that often have a fungal infection that makes the heartwood easier to excavate. The male constructs the nest, building a cavity with a small entrance hole but an inside cavity that may reach 10-12 inches in depth. No lining is placed in the nest outside of wood chips from the excavation itself. The female lays 4 to 7 eggs, with both parents helping to incubate them. The young hatch after about 13 days, and don't fledge from the nest until about 3 to 4 weeks from hatching.

Song:

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have a variety of calls. The most common is a mewing type of call that descends in pitch.

1Click here to hear the typical mewing-like call of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

2Click here to hear the drumming of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

3Click to hear the agitated calls of a small group of interacting Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers

Migration:

While most woodpeckers in the United States are not know for long migration, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is strongly migratory, wintering in the southeastern U.S. down through Central America, and summering in the northern U.S. and Canada.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker sightings

Similar Species:

Range separates Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers from most similar species, but there may be confusion in some select locations with the following species:

Feeders:

Will occasionally attend feeders for fruit. They also will sometimes come to hummingbird feeders for nectar, and occasionally feed on suet.

Conservation Status:

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have become much less common in parts of their range, primarily due to the loss of suitable nesting habitat. However, populations are generally stable, they are common in many parts of their range, and they are found over a broad geographic area. The IUCN considers the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

1) WhatBird - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

2) BirdWeb - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

3) Audubon Field Guide - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Photo Information:

May 21st, 2010 - Near Brandon, South Dakota -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Yellow-bellied Sapsucker photos.

Audio File Credits:

1Sue Riffe. Recorded on Big Creek Road, Michigan on May 11th, 2018. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.

2Scott Gravette. Recorded in Carter County, Tennessee on June 13th, 2018. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.

3Andrew Spencer. Recorded in Hampshire County, Massachusetts on April 18th, 2010. Original recording and information from xeno-canto.

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and summer breeder in the far eastern part of South Dakota.  Becoming increasingly rare as a migrant as you move westward in the state.

Additional Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 2 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 3 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 4 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 5 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 6 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 7 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 8 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 9 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 10 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 11 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 12 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 13 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 14 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 15 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 16 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 17 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 18 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 19 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 20 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 21 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 22 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 23 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 24 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 25 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 26 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 27 - Sphyrapicus variusYellow-bellied Sapsucker 28 - Sphyrapicus varius