Yellowbellied sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius




Picus varius Linnaeus, 1766, based on a drawing by Mark Catesby from South Carolina.


English: Common sapsucker; French: Pic maculé; German: Feuerkopf-Saftlecker; Spanish: Carpintero de Paso.


7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm); 1.4-2.2 oz (40-62 g). Small black-and-white woodpecker with short, chisel-tipped bill; easily distinguished by white stripe that extends down the wing of perched birds. Adult male has a red throat, forehead, and crown; female a white throat and a somewhat paler red forehead and crown. Juveniles have considerable brown and buff and initially upper-parts are somewhat barred; they also have much less white and much less red in crown.


Breeds in northern North America east of the Rocky Mountains across Canada from northeastern British Columbia to southern Labrador and Newfoundland, south to North Dakota and Connecticut, with some disjunct populations in the Appalachians of eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia.

Winters in eastern United States through eastern and southern Mexico and Central America, Bahamas, and West Indies.


Within its breeding range it is found in deciduous and mixed forest and is especially associated with aspen (Populus), in which it often excavates nest cavities, and birch (Betula) and hickory (Carya), which also provide sap resources. Winters in many wooded habitats, including urban parks.


Typically solitary and often inconspicuous outside the breeding season. Sapsuckers maintain an "orchard" of trees with sapwells from which they obtain food. Males migrate shorter distances than females and return earlier than females to breeding areas.


Feeds on beetles and their larvae, ants, other arthropods, and extensively on sweet sap from diseased trees, which it obtains by pecking small holes (sap wells) into the cambium. Also takes insects attracted to the sap wells. Berries are also taken and sometimes fed to nestlings.


Most nests are in living trees that are infected with a heartrot fungus. Cavity entrances are very small, such that a sapsucker often has to squeeze to get in. Clutch size averages 4-5 eggs, but varies geographically, increasing from south to north. Incubation lasts 12-13 days and is shared by parents; young fledge at 25-29 days of age and become independent about two weeks later.


Not threatened.

sapsuckers and the trees they feed on suggests that they select injured and diseased trees because these trees produce a sweeter sap. Many other animals take advantage of the sap-sucker's sap wells. ♦

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