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Wrynecks Woodpeckers and Piculets: Picidae

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (sphyrapicus Varius): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are small black-and-white woodpeckers with a short, chisel-tipped bill and a white stripe that goes down the wing. Adult males have a red throat, forehead, and forecrown, a black bib (area under bill), a bold black-and-white patterned face, a white shoulder patch, and black-and-white barring on the back. There is a pale yellow wash on the under parts, the yellow breast changes to whitish on the lower belly, and is streaked about the flanks, leading to a white rump. Females have a white throat and a paler red forehead and crown. Juveniles have more brown and buff than adults, and less white and red on crown. Adults are 7.5 to 8.7 inches (19 to 22 centimeters) long and weigh between 1.4 and 22 ounces (40 and 62 grams). Their wingspan is 16 to 18 inches (40.6 to 45.7 centimeters) long.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker mates perform loud drumming duets during breeding season along with cries of "hoih-hoih." They build nests with small entrances, just large enough for them to enter. (Illustration by Gillian Harris. Reproduced by permission.)

Geographic range: They breed 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. They have separated populations in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. They winter in the eastern United States through eastern and southern Mexico and Central America, Bahamas, and West Indies.

Habitat: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are found in deciduous and mixed forests, especially around aspen, birch, and hickory trees.

Diet: Their diet consists of beetles and their larvae, insects, ants, other arthropods, tree sap, fruits, tree buds, and berries. Young are fed a mixture of sap and insects by both sexes.

Behavior and reproduction: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers generally are found alone. They are usually found near a group of trees (often near water) where they obtain sap for food. Both sexes migrate, but males migrate shorter distances than females and return earlier to the breeding territory. They are often silent birds, but do make low, growling "mew" cat-like sounds. When alarmed, they give out calls of "cheee-er, cheee-er." Mates perform loud drumming duets during breeding season along with cries of "hoih-hoih." Most nests are built in living trees that are infected with a fungus that rots the tree's center. The entrance is made very small, just allowing them to enter. Clutch size is four to five eggs, with more eggs produced as the birds go north. The incubation period is twelve to thirteen days and the fledgling period is twenty-five to twenty-nine days; both parents incubate and fledge. There is one brood each year.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers and people: People consider yellow-bellied sapsuckers pests when they damages trees in search of sap.

Conservation status: Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are not threatened. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsWrynecks Woodpeckers and Piculets: Picidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Northern Wryneck (jynx Torquilla): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, WRYNECKS WOODPECKERS AND PICULETS AND PEOPLE