The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a widespread North and Central American woodpecker species, known for its proclivity for sap drilling. They are a fully migratory species, meaning their breeding and overwintering ranges do not overlap.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers spend the summer breeding season in the open forests of northern North America, from southern Alaska south to the eastern United States. In the fall, these birds migrate to the southeastern US, Mexico, and Central America.
This species differs slightly from other woodpeckers when it comes to habitat necessities. They favor young, live trees for nesting and feeding over dead snags.
We will discuss this and much more about the lives of the yellow-bellied sapsucker in the following article. Read on to learn about this fascinating woodpecker!
During the breeding season, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found across the open forests of northern North America
The yellow-bellied sapsucker is distributed throughout much of North America, from southeast Alaska, across Canada, and south through the eastern United States. From the US, the sapsuckers’ range continues through Mexico to Central America and the West Indies.
Where the yellow-bellied sapsucker resides within this expansive territory depends on the time of year. They are a fully migratory species that breeds in Alaska, Canada, and the northernmost United States.
During winter, these birds migrate to the southeast US, Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Populations are generally only sighted in the states between the north and southeast US during spring and fall migrations.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker primarily lives in the northern and southeastern United States. The birds breed from the northeast south to West Virginia, and across the northern halves of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.
In fall, the sapsuckers migrate from the northern states, through the midwest and northern Great Plains to the southeast. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers overwinter in this region from the east coast to central Texas, Oklahoma, and southeastern Kansas.
Continue reading for more information on the states in the US they can be found in.
A male and female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers perched on the side of a tree
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers breed in the northeastern United States, including northeastern North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and along the Big Sioux River in South Dakota. Breeding populations continue through northeastern Ohio, northern Pennsylvania, western Maryland, southeast New York, and extreme northwest New Jersey.
Sapsuckers also breed in the Northeast from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut. They are present locally throughout Appalachia from eastern West Virginia and Tennessee to western Virginia and North Carolina.
States in the yellow-bellied sapsucker winter range include northern Kansas and Missouri, Central Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, southeast Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, and Long Island, New York.
Wintering populations continue south through western Oklahoma, west-central Texas, and all southeastern states - Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina (excluding the Appalachian regions); South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
There are rare but occasional sightings in western North America from the southern coast of Alaska to Montana, Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perched on a tree stump during the spring
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are widely distributed throughout Canada. They breed in a portion of every region, including southwest Yukon and the Northwest Territories, northeast British Columbia, northern Saskatchewan, central Manitoba, northern Ontario, south-central Quebec, southern Labrador, and central Newfoundland.
Unlike other woodpeckers that primarily depend on dead snags for feeding and nesting, the yellow-bellied sapsucker requires a young forest (or early-successional) habitat. They live in both hardwood and mixed-conifer forests, typically within riparian areas up to 6,500 feet in elevation.
You will not find the sapsucker amongst dense conifer forests, they favor open woodlands of birch, quaking aspen, and maple. They tend to move into forests post-timber harvest or thinning.
Yellow-bellied sapsucker overwintering habitat is similar to that of its breeding range. They prefer open woodlands and are most commonly found in bottomland hardwoods, particularly where hickory trees are present.
The sapsucker may also be found in swamplands, long-leaf pine flatwoods, pine-oak forests, and even tropical semi-deciduous forests.
Yellow-bellied Woodpecker in its natural habitat of a boreal forest
It is not rare to see a yellow-bellied sapsucker. They are a fairly common species, abundant in open hardwood and mix-conifer forests from northern North America to Central America. Just make sure you are looking for them in the right season for your region.
The best place to see a yellow-bellied sapsucker is in its preferred habitat of early-successional forests. During the breeding season, they are abundant in the open birch and aspen woodlands of Canada and the northern US.
You can search for them in areas where timber was harvested and young trees are plentiful.
During winter, the species is most common in the southeastern United States. Look for them amongst bottomland hardwood forests or any open woodlands.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at a bird feeder eating suet
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are active during the day. Apart from caring for nestlings, their days are usually divided between time spent perching on a tree, drilling for sap, probing in bark, and occasionally hawking insects.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers do not stay in one place, they are a fully migratory species. The sapsucker spends the summer breeding season in territories throughout southern Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States.
They typically arrive on their breeding grounds between April and early May and depart between September and mid-October. The birds' migration routes take them to overwintering grounds in the southeastern US, Mexico, and Central America.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perched on a tree trunk
During winter, the yellow-bellied sapsucker is abundant in the southeastern states, from the east coast around South Carolina to southern Kansas, Oklahoma, and east-central Texas.
They are also found throughout Mexico - apart from the northwest corner - and south through Central America to Costa Rica.
Sapsucker populations overwinter in the West Indies as well. Here they are primarily found in Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Hispaniola, and San Andres.
The yellow-bellied sapsuckers’ primary resource for surviving winter is to migrate away from regions that experience exceptionally harsh weather.
In the southern US - and even farther south - winters are typically mild, allowing the sapsucker to tap trees for sap, hunt insects, and forage berries, nuts, and seeds throughout the season.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are also known to store fruit and nuts in various crevices. This is an excellent strategy for getting through days when the winter weather makes hunting and foraging difficult.
Close up portrait of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Summertime is the breeding season for the yellow-bellied sapsucker. During this period, which typically runs between April and October, the birds are nesting in their northern range - southern Alaska, the Canadian territories, and the northern United States.
They are common throughout the open woodlands of these regions - particularly in birch, aspen, and maple forests where they nest in cavities excavated into the trunk of the tree. Unlike other woodpecker species, yellow-bellied sapsuckers nest in live trees.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are typically solitary. During the breeding season, one mate forages while the other remains in the nest. However, on wintering grounds, the sapsucker is known to join small groups of other insect-foraging birds.
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