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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Mike Oxley

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by 

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius

Cooper Marsh Conservation Area, Lancaster, Ontario, Canada
May 23, 2011

Lots of really earnest birdwatchers down at The Marsh today, all done up in their birdwatching finery and festooned with binoculars, spotting scopes, notepads and such. Great folks to come across and fascinating to talk with! They always have really good tips on where to look and what to look for. I was on my way back to the car when I saw one couple pointing up into the trees, then the mister hastily scribbling something in his notebook.

“Hmmm. Must be something interesting”, I thought. So I watched a little bit more and the subject of their attention flew across the clearing and landed on the treetrunk next to me. No wonder they were a little excited.


Many people think the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a mythical bird because its name is often used to parody bird names. It is not only real, it is in some ways a keystone species. Like all woodpeckers, it excavates nest cavities that subsequently are used by a wide variety of animals, from other birds to squirrels and spiders. Sapsuckers also drill sap wells from which other animals obtain nutritious sap and the insects attracted to it. Hummingbirds often nest near sap wells, follow sapsuckers, and even time their migration to coincide with that of sapsuckers.

And with thanks to

The only sapsucker normally found in the boreal and eastern parts of the continent, this species is our most highly migratory woodpecker. Monotypic (smaller, darker resident birds in southern Appalachians sometimes separated as appalachiensis). Length 8" (22 cm).
Identification Shows less red on head than related red-naped and red-breasted, and the back is more extensively scalloped with yellow-buff.

Adult male: forecrown, chin, and throat red, outlined completely in black; red normally lacking on nape.

Adult female: similar to male, but the chin and throat are entirely white. Juvenile: head and underparts pale brownish barred with dusky black; upperparts extensively pale buff with dusky barring, becoming white on the rump. Unlike the red-breasted and the red-naped, this juvenal plumage is retained well into the winter, with the red coloration of adult plumage gradually acquired through the fall but the black-and-white head and chest pattern not appearing until late winter.

Voice: This species, the red-breasted, and the red-naped are similar in calls and drums.

Call: a nasal weeah or meeww; on territory a more emphatic quee-ark. Drum: a distinctive rhythm of a short roll of several beats, a pause, then 2 to several brief rolls of 2–3 beats each.

Status and Distribution Common.

Breeding: deciduous forests, mixed hardwoods and conifers of boreal regions and the Appalachians.

Migration: main fall movement is September–October; spring migrants arrive in the Upper Midwest and Northeast during mid-April, and the northernmost breeding populations arrive late April, early May. Winter: widespread in the East south of New England and Great Lakes states, south to West Indies and Panama. Vagrant: rare but regular west to California in fall and winter, with a few records north to Washington.

Accidental in Iceland, Britain, and Ireland.

Sony Alpha 700, Sigma 170 to 500 at 460 mm
iso 400, spot metered, F6.3, 1/320 second


birds, wildlife, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, ontario, feetyur

In love with Ma Nature! Always have been, always will be. Let’s keep her safe, eh?

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  • Corinne Noon
    Corinne Noonover 3 years ago

    Beautiful shot !

  • Thanks so very much, Corinne. Greatly appreciate you taking the time to stop by!

    – Mike Oxley

  • Photography  by Mathilde
    Photography b...over 3 years ago

    Mike, wonderful capture of this beautiful little bird and what a great write up as well. Bird watchers are called “twitchers” over here – think I am getting thet twitching feeling viewing this fabulous image – x x

  • Many, many thanks, Mattie, and many thanks, too, for the “fave”! So greatly appreciated, my friend. I knew they were called “twitchers”, but I don’t think most folks are familiar with the term. Didn’t want to inadvertently offend! :o)

    – Mike Oxley

  • leftysphotos
    leftysphotosover 3 years ago

    beautiful bird, nice shot Mike.

  • Greatly appreciated, lefty! Thanks so very much for the great comment!

    – Mike Oxley

  • PhotosByHealy
    PhotosByHealyover 3 years ago

    Oh another great capture, Mike. Sure is nice to have the reach!


  • Greatly appreciated, Gene! This little was perched in a nearby tree and I couldn’t get a shot. Then he obligingly landed right by me. Quick fumble with the tripod and zoom settings and bingo. Then he was off again!

    – Mike Oxley

  • Sorry – little guy! Keyboard gremlins again!

    – Mike Oxley

  • Yannik Hay
    Yannik Hayover 3 years ago

    Superb! Mike, very well captured. Love the background too :)

  • Many, many thanks, Yan. They are such busy little birds, I was lucky to get this!

    – Mike Oxley

  • Robert Miesner
    Robert Miesnerover 3 years ago

    This one is a beauty Mike! I also noticed when I usually get a sapsucker shot is when they decide to fly and land on a trunk next to me. Sometimes they see me and I miss the shot, great job not missing this opportunity. :)

  • Much appreciated, Robert. Thanks so very much for the wonderful comments. I think this one was pretty preoccupied and didn’t even notice me, luckily enough.

    – Mike Oxley

  • Elfriede Fulda
    Elfriede Fuldaover 3 years ago

    they just keep getting better and better, wow, I love this, woodpeckers are so beautiful and you have captured it that way !

  • Thank you so very much, Elfie. They are such a lovely little bird, aren’t they? And a very busy one, too. I was very lucky with this one!

    – Mike Oxley

  • Shulie1
    Shulie1over 3 years ago

    Great shot, Mike

  • Many thanks, Shulie. I’m amazed by the variety of birds at Cooper Marsh and I’ve only seen a tiny proportion of them.

    – Mike Oxley

  • lorilee
    lorileeover 3 years ago

    Nice capture . . . beautiful!!!

  • Thanks so much for your very kind words, Lorilee. Greatly appreciated!

    – Mike Oxley

  • vsinopoulos
    vsinopoulosover 3 years ago

    Excellent capture and great DOF! Well done Mike!

  • Greatly appreciated, Vassilis. Many thanks for your very kind words of encouragement.

    – Mike Oxley

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