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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

On a walk through the forest you might spot rows of shallow holes in tree bark. In the East, this is the work of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, an enterprising woodpecker that laps up the leaking sap and any trapped insects with its specialized, brush-tipped tongue. Attired sharply in barred black-and-white, with a red cap and (in males) throat, they sit still on tree trunks for long intervals while feeding. To find one, listen for their loud mewing calls or stuttered drumming.

Birds of North America Online
Yard Map Birds Eye View

Calls

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s signature call is a scratchy, nasal mewing that is often repeated. They also have a squealing call, a repeated quee-ah, quee-ah, that’s territorial and often heard in breeding season. And they make a waa call when disturbed or to alert others to danger.

Other

Like other sapsuckers, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s drumming is slower and more irregular than other woodpeckers. Its stuttering cadence can sound like somebody tapping out morse code. In addition to trees with good resonance, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also drum on metal surfaces—like street signs or chimney flashing—to amplify their territorial messages. Most drumming is done by males during breeding season.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers aren’t regular bird feeder visitors, although they may visit suet feeders. And if you have young birch or maple trees in your yard and you live in the sapsucker’s range, you just might get to see one drilling its sapwells firsthand.

Find This Bird

Look for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in young deciduous forests. To find a sapsucker’s territory, keep an eye out for their distinctive, neatly organized rows of sapwells. You’ll mostly likely find them tending to their sapwells, but you might also see them perched at the tips of tree branches when hunting for insects. In spring, listen for their mewing calls and their distinctive irregular drumming. They cling motionless to trees while calling, so if you hear a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, look closely at the trees around you for their sharply contrasting black-and-white face stripes and the bright-red patches on their heads.