The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does not have the most flattering (or accurate) name. Widespread across the eastern half of North America, these birds are one of just four species in the Sphyrapicus genus.
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker portrait
18cm to 23cm
34cm to 40cm
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a small woodpecker with mostly black and white plumage and red markings around the head and throat. They may have a yellowish wash to their belly and breast, but their common name really isn’t all that accurate.
They are primarily black above, with indistinct white barring on their back and bold white stripes along each wing. Their underparts are pale yellow or whitish with darker streaks and bars. The head is more distinctly marked with broad black and white stripes alternating from the crown to the throat.
Males and females are very similar but easily distinguished by the color of their throats. Females have a white throat, while males have a red throat, and both have a red forehead and a broad black band on the upper breast that forms a ring around the throat. Check out this guide for much more information on distinguishing between the sexes.
Juveniles are similar to adults but appear brownish and have much duller head markings. They do not have red plumage on the forehead or throat.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is most easily confused with the Red-naped Sapsucker (S. nuchalis), but fortunately, their ranges are mostly separate.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Male
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Female
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are small woodpeckers, larger than the Downy Woodpecker but smaller than the Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have a body length of approximately 7 to 9 inches (18 - 23 cm).
Adults have an average weight of about 1¾ ounces (50g), and there is little difference between the sexes.
Typical wingspans vary between 15½ and 17¾ inches (34 - 40 cm).
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perching on a branch
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers vocalize and drum on resonant surfaces, particularly during the breeding season. Their typical call is a mewing ‘wheeer wheeer wheeer’ sound, although they also produce a ‘waa’ alarm call that can be heard at any time of the year.
Like many species in the woodpecker family, these birds drum on hollow tree trunks and other resonant surfaces to communicate. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drum relatively slowly and arrhythmically.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perching on a tree trunk
As their name suggests, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers feed on the sap of various trees such as maples, aspens, and birches. They drill holes into the bark of these trees and wait for them to well up with the sugary fluid. Their diet is supplemented with insects attracted to the sap and various fruits.
Their chicks are fed a diet of small insects, sometimes dipped in tree sap. Both parents feed the young.
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker feeding on sap
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are forest and woodland birds. They prefer deciduous and mixed forests that support their favorite food trees.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are restricted to North America. They occur from Eastern Central Alaska across Canada to the Maritime Provinces and south through the eastern half of the Lower 48 states of the US. They also visit most of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands.
Would you like to learn more about the habitat and range of the Yellow-bellied Woodpecker? Check out our in-depth guide!
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers spend most of their lives in trees. These acrobatic birds are specially adapted for clinging to vertical tree trunks, using their zygodactyl feet for grip and stiff tail feathers for added support.
Yellow-bellied Woodpeckers are widespread birds and common in suitable habitats. However, they are rare in some states like Ohio and Missouri.
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the forest
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are very widespread east of the Rockies and the Great Plains. They breed in the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes region, and the Northeast down to West Virginia. Look out for overwintering birds across the Southeast in forests and woodlands from Texas to Florida and up the East Coast as far as Connecticut.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are summer breeding visitors to every Canadian province and territory except Nunavut. They are mostly absent from the south of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan and the north of Quebec.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drinking sap
Like most small birds, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers typically live just a few years. The oldest individuals live 6 to 8 years.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are vulnerable to many predators from egg to adulthood. Small mammals like raccoons and birds of prey like Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks probably pose the greatest threats.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States and Canada’s Migratory Birds Convention Act.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are a widespread and common bird. Officially listed as a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List, they are not endangered.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perching on a wooden post
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers nest in the north of their range, primarily in Canada, but also in the American Northeast and parts of Alaska. The male drills a nest hole into a soft, fungus-infected limb of a deciduous tree but does not bring in any other material.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers nest in late spring and summer, usually between May and July. The female will lay her eggs within days of her partner completing the nest, and both parents will work together to incubate them for ten to thirteen days. The young birds fledge the nest about four weeks later.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers usually lay four to six plain white eggs, each measuring about 23 millimeters long and 17 millimeters across.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers form monogamous pairs that remain together for the entire breeding season. They will usually reunite with the same partner each year or until one of the pair fails to return.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, male (left) and female (right)
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be very protective over their sap supply and will chase away competition like large insects and hummingbirds. They are also territorial when nesting and may act aggressively toward other woodpeckers or members of their own species.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers may sleep in their nest cavity during excavation, incubation, and brooding, but they sleep elsewhere for the rest of the year.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker searching for food
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are highly migratory. These birds nest in the north of their range (mostly in Canada) during the spring and summer but retreat to the American Southeast, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America to enjoy the relatively mild southern winters.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are a native species in the United States. These highly migratory birds can be seen in different parts of the country during all months of the year.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker feeding on suet from a garden feeder
Birdwatchers can attract Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers by providing suet and sugary foods like grape jelly. Planting their favorite food trees is a great way to keep them coming back year after year.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers prefer deciduous trees with sugary sap. Their favorite trees are maples, birches, serviceberry, oaks, and apple trees.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers usually don’t cause much serious harm to trees, although they can increase the risk of pest infestations and disease. They have been reported to kill some trees by drilling holes all the way around the trunk, although this is rare.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are true woodpeckers from the Picidae family. There are four species of Sapsuckers in North America, and they differ from other woodpeckers primarily in their habit of drilling small, regularly-spaced wells on tree trunks to harvest the sugary sap.
Williamson’s sapsuckers are found in scattered breeding locations between southwestern Canada and parts of the southern and western United States. Winter territories extend into central Mexico. Unusually for a woodpecker, male and female Williamson’s sapsuckers are very different in appearance, with males a striking, bold black, white, yellow and red, and females mainly a cryptic mottled brown, with heavy light and dark barring.
Arizona woodpeckers are small woodpeckers, native to a small area centered on oak, sycamore and pine forests in the southwestern corner of Arizona and across the border in a strip that runs through western Mexico. Due to their remote nesting sites, there is little detailed information available about this species.
Similar in habits and appearance to the more widespread northern flicker, the gilded flicker is a colorful resident of the desert landscapes of the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, where it excavates nest cavities high up in giant saguaro cacti.
Formerly known as cactus woodpeckers, ladder-backed woodpeckers are native to the desert landscapes of the southern United States and Mexico. They construct nest cavities in trees or cacti on arid scrublands, where they feed on insects and larvae living on the thorny vegetation.
Only found in mountainous pine forests of the western United States and in a small region of British Columbia, white-headed woodpeckers are one of North America’s least numerous woodpeckers. Habitat loss, due to logging and removal of snags from coniferous woodlands, is a potential threat to the stability of the species’ population.
The only North American woodpecker to excavate cavities in living, green wood, the red-cockaded woodpecker is also the most endangered on the continent, with a population of only around 15,000, a decline of more than 80 percent since the 1970s.
A small woodpecker native to oak woodlands of western California, the Nuttall’s woodpecker takes its name from the British naturalist Thomas Nuttall. Year-round residents of the extreme southwest corner of the United States, Nuttall’s woodpeckers excavate their own cavities, but do not reuse them in subsequent seasons, making them a key contributor to the survival of secondary-cavity nesters, such as wrens and titmice.
Black-backed woodpeckers are found in coniferous forests of southern Canada and parts of the northern United States. Their inky black plumage acts as effective camouflage against the charred trees of burned forests they inhabit after forest fires, where they thrive, feasting on the larvae of wood-boring beetles.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
One of two North American woodpecker species with three toes, the American three-toed woodpecker is widespread across much of Canada and also resident in the Rocky Mountain states of the US. Three-toed feet are a particularly useful adaptation that allow these woodpeckers to lean back further while clinging to a tree, and therefore deliver stronger, more powerful blows when striking the trunk.
Native to the western coastal regions of North America, red-breasted sapsuckers are unmistakable woodland birds with a crimson head and breast and bold white shoulder stripe. Perhaps what makes them more remarkable still are the neat rows of holes they drill into trunks of trees to access the sweet sap inside.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a controversial bird. Officially listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, they are generally believed to be extinct. Still, some birdwatchers cling to the hope that these majestic birds still haunt the forests of the American Southeast.
An active, noisy and conspicuous bird, the golden-fronted woodpecker adds a splash of color to the mesquite brushlands of southern Texas. Fruit, nuts (especially pecans) and seed make up a large portion of its diet, which also comprises insects and larvae, gleaned from the trunks of scrubland vegetation.
The Pileated Woodpecker is an impressive bird by all accounts. As the largest American representative of the Picidae family, they are twice the weight of any other surviving woodpecker in the United States.
Named for its characteristic call, or perhaps the flash of white rump and brightly colored wing feathers, the Northern Flicker is a large, handsome woodpecker that you’re more likely to see foraging on the ground than up in the trees.
The deserts of the Southwest are home to a unique and rowdy woodpecker species. Gila Woodpeckers are adapted to life in the arid zone, where the mighty Saguaro cactus replaces regular trees.
The Hairy Woodpecker is a bold and bright forest bird that occurs almost throughout North America. They are regular and welcome visitors to backyard bird feeders, although less common than the similar Downy Woodpecker.
Despite their name, the most conspicuous feature of red-bellied woodpeckers is the vibrant red coloring on the head, crown and nape of males of the species. The “red belly” is limited to a pinkish patch, barely visible unless at very close range. These highly patterned black-and-white woodpeckers are present across much of the eastern US, where they are both common and widespread.
A colorful member of the woodpecker family, the red-headed Woodpecker is widespread across the east-central United States. It is an occasional visitor to backyard feeders in winter, with its brilliant crimson head in deep contrast to its black and white body making it instantly recognizable.
Often dubbed the “clown-faced woodpecker”, acorn woodpeckers are distinctive red-crowned woodland birds found along the Pacific Coast of the United States. As well as their striking appearance, they are known for their intricate carpentry work to create “granaries” in trees for storing acorns.
Anything but a typical woodpecker, the Lewis’s woodpecker forages for flying insects like a flycatcher, has the shape and stature of a crow or jay, and the coloring of a hummingbird. They are not particularly skilled at excavating nest cavities and their drumming abilities are limited.
Known for their fondness of tree sap and ability to drill neat rows of sap wells into tree trunks, red-naped sapsuckers are the most common species of sapsucker in the western regions of North America, and favor aspen stands and ponderosa pine forests for both nesting and foraging.
America’s most common woodpecker is also its smallest. The boldly marked Downy Woodpecker is a familiar little bird of forests, woodlands, and backyards across the United States and Canada.
Once a common breeding bird in the UK, the Wryneck is now only a brief visitor en route between Northern European breeding grounds and African overwintering sites. What they lack in colour and song is made up by wonderfully textured plumage and some truly bizarre behaviours.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is the United Kingdom’s rarest woodpecker species, and its unexplained decline is of great concern. This elusive, sparrow-sized species presents a real birdwatching challenge.
European Green Woodpecker
Woodpeckers belong to the family Picidae. There are over 230 recognised species of woodpecker from 33 genera, to be found across the world, albeit many species are specific to relatively small, isolated areas. As a family they can be found in almost all regions of the globe apart from Antarctica, Greenland, Madagascar and Australasia. This profile is limited to the 3 species of Picus viridis otherwise known as the Eurasian Green Woodpecker and concentrates on the Picus viridis viridis subspecies, common throughout the United Kingdom, France, Scandinavia and western Russia.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.
© 2023 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.