The yellow-bellied sapsucker is an easily recognized member of the woodpecker family, well-known for its propensity towards sap drilling. When it comes to identifying this species, the sexes look almost identical. However, there is one defining feature.
Female yellow-bellied sapsuckers lack the ruby red throat and chin boasted by the males. Instead, the female's chin is white, making identification fairly easy.
This plumage difference is not the only characteristic that separates male and female sapsuckers. They also exhibit multiple behavioral differences, which we will discuss in further detail in this article.
Read on to discover what sets the female yellow-bellied sapsucker apart!
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers lack the red throat of males, making it easy to tell the two sexes apart
Male and female yellow-bellied sapsuckers look very similar apart from one differentiating feature - their throat color. The throat of the male is primarily red, while that of the female sapsucker is mostly white. Looking for this difference is the simplest and fastest way to tell the sexes apart.
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Female yellow-bellied sapsuckers are primarily black and white, with buffy to yellow underparts and a red forehead and crown. However, females occasionally lack the red crown; it may be solid black or black spotted with red instead.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker female also has a black bib on the upper breast and black stripes on the sides of the head bordered by white, large white wing patches, with a black back and white rump.
Close up of a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
The female yellow-bellied sapsucker is not bigger than the male. Overall, the two sexes are almost identical in size. The average mass of males and females is 50.3 g, with a range of 40.7 to 62.2.
Male sapsuckers have slightly longer bill, tail, and tarsus lengths, while females may occasionally have longer wings. However, these differences are almost imperceptible to the naked eye.
Female (left), and male (right) breeding pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers - note the lack of the red throat on the female
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers have a varied vocal array that both sexes utilize. The primary difference between male and female call behavior is that males tend to be more vocal. Females particularly use Waa calls and drumming less frequently once incubation begins. The majority of these vocal and non-vocal calls heard at this point are given by unpaired males.
The Waa call is a low-intensity alert call often used to signal a potential danger or any unusual occurrence. Drumming is a non-vocal sound produced primarily by males. Females do drum, but more softly and far less frequently. It is thought that drumming is mainly used to attract mates and announce presence to competing birds.
Female yellow-bellied sapsuckers most frequently utilize the dry-chatter and interaction calls. Both are voiced when interacting with other birds. Of course, females also use alarm calls when necessary.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (female) on the side of a tree
Male and female yellow-bellied sapsuckers take on different responsibilities during nesting and feeding. Males arrive on breeding grounds first to establish territories, while females arrive about a week later. Males typically choose the nest tree before the female's arrival - likely the same nest tree from the season before.
The male yellow-bellied sapsucker also performs most of the nest cavity excavation - that is, unless the first cavity fails. If the pair must begin a second excavation site, the female gets more involved.
When it comes to incubation, responsibilities vary. Depending on the pair, females may incubate more than or less than their partner. Generally, though, males incubate throughout the night, while females take over during the day.
Once the eggs have hatched, both parents brood equally and share in feeding their young. However, the male does tend to feed slightly more often than the female.
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker inspecting holes it has drilled in the tree, for sap to feed on
Female yellow-bellied sapsuckers are unlikely to successfully raise young alone. A female depends on her partner to share in incubation, brooding, and feeding. In fact, the male sometimes takes on more of the incubation and feeding roles than his mate.
If the female were left to care for her young alone, she would need to leave the nest vulnerable for extended periods to feed herself and forage for the nestlings. This would likely result in the loss of the nest.
Yellow-bellied sapsucker females can be territorial during nesting season. However, males tend to be far more territorial than their partners. It is not unusual for a male to fight when a rival enters another male’s claimed territory.
Close up of a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on a tree
Female yellow-bellied sapsuckers are primarily black and white striped, with yellowish underparts, and a red crown. However, it is important to note that some adult females do not have a solid red crown, it can also be black mixed with red or solid black.
Juvenile females look similar to adults but more subdued. Instead of black, their plumage appears buffy brown and their red markings are not as bold.
Female yellow-bellied sapsuckers share the same call repertoire as males, which includes vocal and non-vocal sounds. Non-vocal sounds include drumming and tapping, both of which are used to communicate. Vocal calls include alarm signals such as Waa and scream and interaction calls such as dry-chatter.
The most notable difference between male and female vocalization is that females tend to call less frequently and more softly.
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