Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus varius


Early Spring Date: March 1
Late Spring Date: May 20
Best Dates to See in Spring: March 28 - April 7

Spring: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are winter residents in the Washington metro area, and they usually leave in early April to go to their breeding areas in Canada and the northern United States. The best time to see one at Monticello Park is during the last week in March and the first week in April. Occasionally, a straggler will be seen in the park as late as the third week in May.

Fall: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers begin to arrive at Monticello in late September. Migrants pass through the park during the first 3 weeks in October. After that, you have a chance to see the ones who remain through the winter.

Where to See Them in the Park

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers typically are seen in the area past the middle of the park on both sides of the stream. They are common, but not always easy to find. Sometimes, multiple sapsuckers are in the park.

Physical Description


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Male
Adult male - photo by William Young

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker and have a lemon-colored wash on their underparts. The chisel-like bill looks as if it is made of iron. Male sapsuckers are the only woodpeckers seen at Monticello who have both a black-and-white face and a red throat.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Female
Adult female - Photo by Edward Eder

Females look like males, but have a white throat.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Male
Adult male - Photo by Michael Pollack

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have a thick white vertical stripe on their wing, which can be a good fieldmark if you see a black-and-white woodpecker on a distant tree.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Male
Adult male - Photo by William Young

However, the vertical stripe is not always visible.

Second-year Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Immature - Photo by William Higgins

In the spring, immature Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers look mottled and lack red on their crown. The vertical stripe on the wing can be an important fieldmark.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Holes
Adult male at sap wells - Photo by William Young

Sapsucker drill lines of holes in trees so that they can suck sap and eat insects attracted to the sap.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Holes
Sap wells - Photo by William Young

A tall Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) on the ridge at Monticello has been a favorite tree for sapsuckers. It has lines of holes running almost its entire length.

The sapsucker in the photo below cut wells into the bark of an American Holly tree. Kinglets were observed visiting the wells.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Adult male at sap wells - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Ruby-crowned Kinglet feeding from wells
Ruby-crowned Kinglet at sap wells - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Adult male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Immature - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The mossy-looking pattern on the back helps sapsuckers to visually blend into bark better than other woodpeckers (and can make them more difficult for birders to spot).

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-bellied Woodpecker and adult female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-bellied Woodpecker and adult female displaying her yellow belly - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Vocalizations

The call of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a loud squawk, and the single note is sometimes prolonged. The drumming pattern is even.

Hear the vocalizations and sounds of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Notes

Many non-birders think that the bird called the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was made up by comics to get a laugh. A lot of people do not laugh at the damage sapsuckers do to trees, killing many by girdling them with sap holes. The greatest amount of damage is done to birch trees.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Yellow-bellied from the lemony wash on their underparts. Sapsucker because they suck sap from holes they drill in trees.
Genus Name: Sphyrapicus from the Greek sphyra for hammer and the Latin picus for woodpecker.
Species Name: Varius means "diverse", from the patterning of their plumage.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker video footage

Return to the Index