Yellow Bellie Sapsucker

Irvin Le Blanc

Lacombe, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Although most non-birders believe that the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a fictitious bird created just for the humorous name, in fact it is a widespread species of small woodpecker. Its habit of making shallow holes in trees to get sap is exploited by other bird species, and the sapsucker can be considered a “keystone” species, one whose existence is vital for the maintenance of a community.

Cool Facts

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes two kinds of holes in trees to harvest sap. Round holes extend deep in the tree and are not enlarged. The sapsucker inserts its bill into the hole to probe for sap. Rectangular holes are shallower, and must be maintained continually for the sap to flow. The sapsucker licks the sap from these holes, and eats the cambium of the tree too. New holes usually are made in a line with old holes, or in a new line above the old.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker frequently uses human-produced materials to help in its territorial drumming. Street signs and metal chimney flashing amplify the irregular tapping of a territorial sapsucker. The sapsucker seems to suffer no ill effects of whacking its bill on metal, and a bird will return to a favorite sign day after day to pound out its Morse code-like message.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males.

Where the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s range meets that of the Red-naped Sapsucker in Alberta, the two closely related forms hybridize. The Red-naped Sapsucker formerly was considered just a race of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

topSize: 18-22 cm (7-9 in)
Wingspan: 34-40 cm (13-16 in)
Weight: 43-55 g (1.52-1.94 ounces)

Medium-sized woodpecker.
White stripe running up side.
Messy black and whitish barring on back.

Forehead and crown red with black border.
Black and white striped face.
Upper chest black.
Blackish barring on sides of breast and belly.
Yellowish wash across belly, back, and top of chest.
Wings black with white spotting.
Tail barred black and white in middle and outermost feathers, black on sides.
Eyes black.
Feet blackish.
Bill blackish.
Rump white.

Sex Differences
Chin and throat red in male, white in female.

Throat and crown completely red.

Throat white or with only a few red feathers. Crown usually red, but may be completely black or with a few red feathers.

Juvenile similar to adult, but head markings obscured because of paleness, with black replaced with brownish.

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