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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Cavity Makers

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius

Yellow-bellied sapsucker foraging on a tree trunk

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are woodpeckers that breed in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests in North America from May to August. They are commonly found in aspen, birch, and maple forests, which are habitats characterized by a mixture of hardwood and conifer trees where insects and tree sap are abundant during the breeding season.

They forage on trees, particularly those with softer bark, for sap, insects, and tree-dwelling invertebrates such as ants and beetles. They may also feed on fruits and berries, as well as spiders and other small arthropods.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have a unique feeding behavior, drilling rows of small holes, called sap wells, into the bark of trees to access sap. They use their brush-tipped tongues to lap up the sap and also feed on insects attracted to the sap wells.

Courtship involves a series of vocalizations and drumming displays by both sexes. Males may perform aerial displays and tap on trees to attract females. Both sexes engage in mutual preening and other bonding behaviors near potential nesting sites.

Males and females excavate cavities in live deciduous trees, ranging from 3 to 15 meters above ground, in forests or woodlands. They often choose trees with softer wood or those affected by heart rot, which makes excavation easier. Wood chips are left at the bottom, and the nest is usually located in an area with a high density of sap wells.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers will sometimes nest in birdhouses. See Birdhouse plans for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

Egg laying typically begins in late May to early June, with the female laying 4 to 7 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 12 to 13 days. After hatching, both parents feed the chicks with insects and regurgitated sap. They are vulnerable to predation by snakes, birds of prey, and mammals.

Chicks learn to forage by observing and following adult birds. As they develop, they begin to drill their own sap wells and forage for insects and sap more independently.

Chick fledging occurs about 25 to 29 days after hatching. Adults continue to guide and feed the fledglings for several weeks, during which the young woodpeckers learn to forage more effectively and expand their diet to include more sap and insects.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are long-distance migrants, with northern populations migrating to the southeastern United States, Central America, and the Caribbean for the winter. They follow specific flyways, often along the Atlantic Coast and through the central United States.

Wintering habitats include mixed woodlands, orchards, and plantations where sap-producing trees are present. They forage for tree sap, insects, fruits, and berries during the winter months.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers leave their wintering grounds in early spring, typically from March to April, and return north to their breeding grounds by late April to early May.