Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is not just an insult offered by Yosemite Sam; it is a woodpecker. Rarely seen in the western USA states, these birds breed in the northeastern USA. Spring and summer finds them spread widely across Canada, from the Yukon Territory to the Maritime Provinces, and into Alaska. They spend their winters in the southeastern USA, Mexico and Central America.

Ornithologists used to believe Red-Naped and Red-Breasted Sapsuckers were subspecies of this woodpecker. Today’s taxonomists view Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies recognised).

I first met these birds on their breeding grounds in Canada (Alberta and British Columbia) during my 2005 expedition to Alaska. My next meeting was not until sixteen years later, when I found them at their winter homes in Big Bend National Park (Texas). I returned to Canada in 2022, spending two months meandering through their western and prairie provinces, and enjoyed their company again.

Sapsuckers drill holes in trees that cause the sap to flow to the surface into the holes they have drilled. These birds drink the sweet sap and eat any insects that get trapped. Often other species will exploit the sap and the insects that are drawn to the sugary bounty.

All sapsucker species announce their territorial claims by drumming on hard surfaces. I’ve heard them tapping on metal road signs. They all sound very similar to one another. I think the cadence is reminiscent of the drum riff known as “Shave And A Haircut”.

Range Map for Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Range Map

23 Photos

Click map markers to reveal further information