Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

So funny story–I noticed this woodpecker a couple of times during the late winter months and immediately thought that I was looking at the hairy woodpecker instead of the downy woodpecker. For whatever reason, when I saw the red stripe my eyes/mind took it to be the little red ‘dot’ on the back of the downy or hairy woodpecker’s head. Well–it isn’t the downy or hairy woodpecker, it is actually the yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and another bird on the small suet feeder

While I understand that their name comes from the pale yellow belly–that isn’t the part that most people see first. They see the red-striped head and the black and white patterned body.

This is why it has taken me a month to properly id the woodpecker–I had been going with the misconception that since it was larger than the downy woodpecker, it had to then automatically be the hairy woodpecker.

These woodpeckers are black and white with a patterned face and body. Both sexes have a red stripe on the head, while the males also sport red throats. Therefore it is safe to assume that this was a female yellow-bellied sapsucker taking a stop for fuel on her way back north.

Female yellow-bellied sapsucker feeding at the small suet

Their bellies are either white or a very pale yellow in color, and they also have a long white stripes along the folded wing as well.

Geographically speaking, they can be found throughout a good portion of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and down into Central America. Their breeding grounds are in the northern parts of North America (Alaska, Canada, and various states such as North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, and Maine).

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker migration map. Map (c) birds of the world

They are absent in states within and west of the Rocky Mountains.

In terms of habitat–they favor younger forests that consist of fast-growing trees. They need a large number of trees for feeding (since they feed from the sap of the trees), but also need to have access to dead or decaying trees to build their nests.

In terms of the best places to spot them–during migration look for them at suet feeders (or possibly drilling for sap), and other time of the years, they probably can be spotted tending to or creating new sapwells for feeding.

For the most part, the sap from trees makes up a large proportion of the yellow-bellied sapsucker’s diet. They pick trees that meet different criteria: possibly sick or wounded trees, but also trees that have high sucrose concentrations in their sap–such as paper birch, yellow birch, sugar maple, red maple, and hickory trees.

They will also eat insects (mainly ants), spiders, and occasionally go after moths, butterflies, and other flying insects as well.

During migration (and possibly other times of the year) they can also be spotted occasionally at suet feeders as well.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker at the small suet

While looking into the yellow-bellied sapsucker, I didn’t realize that other animals may also go and feed at the sapwells that they create. One bird that is known to eat from the sapwell is the ruby-throated hummingbird (not a big surprise)–but it is interesting to note that some ruby-throated hummingbirds actually time their migration to match (or be close to) that of the yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Bats and porcupines have also been spotted at sapwells in various locations.