Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius

By Crystal Lawhorn

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is in the family of woodpeckers and sapsuckers. They are around 8-8 ˝ inches tall. Their face is white with a red forehead. Males have red throats framed in black and females have white throats framed in black. Of course, they both have yellow undersides, thus the name Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The young are more brown than yellow until they reach adulthood. Their call is a loud, nasally cheer.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are native to the South and South eastern United States during the winter. During the summer months they are found in the Northern part of the United States and primarily into Canada. They are highly migratory birds, in fact, they are one of the most migratory of the woodpecker family. Through migration, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has mated and mixed with the Red-naped Sapsucker. There is little to no overlap in their rangesfor summer and winter.

These birds love open woods and deciduous forests and some even reside in orchards. Their diet is composed of insects, such as ants and small flying insects that they catch from the tree or in the air. In the winter they eat a lot of fruit and berries. Most of their diet consists of tree sap. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker drills holes in the tree called sap wells for a tasty meal.

In order to mate, the male finds a nesting site. He then pecks loudly at the nest site and shows off his bright red throat in an effort to attract a female. There is a unusual tradition of the Sapsucker’s mating habits. After their hatchlings are gone, the next year when the bird mates again, he will use the same tree, just a different hole or nest.

The hatchlings are cared for and fed by both parents. They are pushed out of the nest 25 to 29 days after being hatched. The parents teach their young the sapsucking techniques and help them feed for 10 days after the babies leave the nest. From then on, the young birds are on their own to survive.

Written fall 2000, as a service learning project for Dr. Gary Coté's Biology 102 class at Radford University. Copyright Pathways for Radford.

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