Sapsucker woodpecker

Yellow bellied sapsucker photoA yellow bellied sapsucker is called by many names – yellow belly sapsucker, yellow bellied woodpecker, sapsucker woodpecker, yellow bellied sap sucker, and yellow breasted woodpecker, among others.  Its’ accepted name among the bird community is ‘yellow bellied sapsucker’ and in this article you will learn many interesting facts about this colorful bird.

What is a sap sucker?

A sap sucker is a wild bird that lives in North America that is part of the woodpecker family (family=Picidae, order=Piciformes).  It’s scientific name is Sphyrapicus varius.  This bird is commonly called by many different names, like yellow belly sapsucker, yellow bellied woodpecker, sapsucker woodpecker, and yellow bellied sap sucker, but it’s accepted name is yellow bellied sapsucker.  As their name implies, they are most well known for drilling holes in trees and sucking the sap from the holes.

Yellow bellied sapsucker identification – color, markings, features

  • photo of sapsucker woodpeckerRed patch on forehead, white face (cheek) with black line thru eye, black line extending from base of bill, black ‘bib’ on upper chest, black back and wings with heavy white spotting, dirty white / tan underparts
  • Male has red chin (throat)
  • Female has white chin (throat)
  • Both sexes have faint yellowish coloring on belly (thus its’ name)
  • Juveniles have very little to no red on foreheads – as they get older, the red on their foreheads becomes more pronounced and visable
  • similar to Hairy woodpecker


Yellow bellied sapsucker sizeMale yellow bellied sapsuckers have red on chin and red on forehead

  • Medium sized woodpecker
  • about 8 inches
  • bill is about 1 inch
  • wingspan about 15 inches
  • weight about 2.5-3 ounces

Yellow bellied sapsucker range

  • year round in central midwest United States east to Pennsylvania, and Appalachian mountains
  • during migration summer range in upper midwest United States and northeast United States, and most of Canada
  • during migration winter range in central and southeastern United States (Nebraska south to Texas, Pennsylvania south to Florida and all states in between), and south into Mexico


Sapsucker woodpecker population statistics

  • Juvenile sapsucker woodpeckeraccording to various bird counts conducted through out its’ range, the population of yellow bellied sapsuckers is decreasing in its’ central range and steadily increasing in its’ eastern range




Yellow bellied sapsucker diet

photo of female yellow bellied sapsuckerYellow bellied sapsuckers are occasionally attracted to woodpecker feeders which contain some type of suet mixture. To learn more details about their feeding habits and what they like to eat read What do woodpeckers eat.

Yellow bellied sapsucker habitat

Sapsucker woodpeckers live in a variety of different habitats from open woodlands to dense forests. They will inhabit hardwood forests and conifer forests in their northern (summer) ranges, and are also found in southern swamp and wetland habitats consisting of mixed cypress, pine, and oak trees in their southern (winter) ranges. They prefer second growth forests which contain a large number of smaller trees, as the younger trees are ‘ripe’ for producing sap. Sapsucker woodpeckers also live in orchards, parks, and tree farms.

Yellow bellied sapsucker nest – nesting, breeding, and mating

Female yellow bellied sapsuckers have red on forehead but no red on chinSapsucker woodpeckers nest in the same types of trees they prefer to feed in/on – beech, aspen, maple, elm, and birch. The trees they choose for nesting are frequently live trees that have heartwood rot, but they will also nest in dead trees. The male sapsucker does most of the excavation of the nest cavity. The entrance hole to the nest is fairly small (about 1.5 inches in diameter), with the cavity being about 6 to 12 inches deep. Wood chips and bark are placed in the bottom of the cavity for bedding of eggs and babies. Sapsucker’s are known to reuse the same nesting cavities from year to year. Sapsucker’s breed only once a year in early spring. They normally lay between 3 and 6 solid white colored smooth eggs, which measure about .75 inch by 1 inch. Egg incubation is about 12 days and the nesting period is normally complete after about 28 days.

Yellow bellied sapsucker call and sounds

Both male and female sapsucker woodpeckers commonly use soft weeping sounding calls (‘weee-weee-weee’ with the beginning of the ‘weee’ being higher pitched and then descending to a lower pitch at the end of the ‘weee’). They also use short ‘chir’ calls. Both sexes also make soft irregular drumming noises that can last for up to 5 or 10 seconds at a time (tap-taptaptap-tap-tap-taptap-tap-taptaptap).

Other noted behavioral traits of Yellow bellied sapsuckers

Migrating sapsucker woodpeckerThe only eastern woodpecker of North America that is completely migratory, meaning all birds of this species move south before winter (other woodpecker species like the red headed and northern flicker partially migrate). Sapsucker woodpeckers are known for drilling numerous horizontal rows of small holes in trees for sap wells. Some trees where sapsuckers have frequented can have hundreds even thousands of small holes and rows of holes in their tree bark. After drilling holes in trees, sapsuckers will return to the best sap producing trees day after day to drill more holes and drink sap from existing holes. Other birds like hummingbirds, warblers, and other woodpeckers frequently use sapsucker made holes for drinking the sap from trees.

Related species:

Pileated woodpecker