Sphyrapicus variusyellow-bellied sapsucker

Geographic Range

The range of Sphyrapicus varius is North and Middle America. It is common to see this bird wintering in the southern United States, Central America, and the West Indies. Some birds stay within the transition zones, but most of them winter in the southern United States, Central America, and the West Indies.

(Bent 1992, Winkler et al. 1995)


They live in northern deciduous and mixed coniferous forests in summer. During winter they live in forests and various semi-open habitats.

(Winkler et al. 1995)

Physical Description

The male has a red forecrown on a black and white head and a red throat. Sexual dimorphism between the adults is easily observed as the female has a white chin compared to the red in the male. The back is blackish, with a white rump, and a large white wing patch. The underparts are yellowish and are paler in females. Juvenile woodpeckers retain a brown plumage until late in the winter when it begins to take on the colors of its sex.

(Short 1982)

  • Range mass
    43 to 55 g
    1.52 to 1.94 oz


In late April and May nests are excavated in live birch and poplar trees 2-20 meters above ground. Both sexes participate in the excavation. At the site of excavation, courtship flights are executed between the pair; a "winnowing" sound is made during these flights. Other than ritual flights there is ritual tapping to strengthen pair bonds, this occurs when the male taps on the tree and the female responds with a similar tap. Copulation results in four to seven egg being laid. Incubation duties are shared by both adults and lasts for 12-13 days.. The male, however, spends more time on the eggs, especially at night.

Young fledge within 25-29 days of hatching. The adults must feed their chicks nine times per hour to help them develop properly. To help in sanitation, the adults mix sawdust with the droppings and carry them out of the nest.

(Short 1982, Kilham 1983)

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    13 days



Sapsuckers have many different displays for different encounters. They raise the head so that the red throat patch of the male or the white patch of the female can be seen; this is to attract a potential mate. They raise their crest and shake their head to display aggression.

(Short 1982)

Communication and Perception

The breeding call for these birds sound like a kwee-urk. This same call is also a territorial call.

"Quirks" are used to strengthen the pairbond between two birds of the opposite sex. This is a scratching on the tree and usually happens along with head bobbing.

Week, week; wurp, wurp noises are exchanged between pairs and/or with their juveniles when they meet.

When in the presence of a predator the birds give a repeated shrill. When they are just mildly excited, they have been known to give a mewing c-waan noise. (Kilham, 1983)

Food Habits

The main food source is insects. The most common are beetles, ants, moths and dragonflies. When insects are not abundant, sap is an important food source. Sphyapicus varius gets its sap from poplar, willow, birch, maple, hickory, pine, spruce and fir trees. Other sources of food taken from October to February include berries and fruits.

(Bent 1992, Winkler et al. 1995)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

They mainly eat insects that could otherwise damage agriculture.

Conservation Status

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are widespread and abundant, with no need for special conservation measures to protect their populations. They are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.


Neil de Guia (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Terry Root (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Bent, A. 1992. Life Histories of the North American Woodpeckers. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Kilham, L. 1983. Life History Studies of Woodpeckers of Eastern North America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Club Publishing.

Short, L. 1982. Woodpeckers of the World. Cinnaminson, New Jersey: Foris Publication.

Winkler, H., D. Christie, D. Nurney. 1995. A Guide to the Woodpeckers, Piculets and Wrynecks of the World. South Africa: Pica Press.