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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- Sphyrapicus varius
(includes Red-naped Sapsucker -- Sphyrapicus nuchalis)


RANGE: Breeds from eastern Alaska east to central Newfoundland, south to northeastern British Columbia, eastern North Dakota, New Hampshire, and locally in the Appalachians south to eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina; and in the Rocky Mountain region from south-central British Columbia to western Montana south, east of the Cascades, to east-central California and western Texas. Winters from Missouri, the Ohio Valley, and New Jersey south through Texas, southeastern United States to central Panama; in the West from southern California, central Arizona, and central New Mexico south to southern Baja California and Jalisco.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Breeds in deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests in the eastern and northern parts of its range, especially in woodlands with Populus. In the Rocky Mountain region, occurs primarily in aspen forests or in coniferous forests where aspen is present. Uses a variety of forests and open woodlands, parks, and orchards in winter.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Dead or live trees with heartrot for cavity nests.

NEST: Excavates cavities in snags or in live trees with rotten heartwood. Prefers aspens but will nest in ponderosa pine, birch, elm, butternut, cottonwood, alder, willow, beech, maple, and fir. May use the same nest tree for several years, but excavates a new cavity each year.

FOOD: Drills rows of holes (sapwells) through the outer bark and consumes cambium and tree sap. Also eats a variety of insects attracted to the sapwells (ants are probably the dominant animal food). Fruits, mast, and Rhus seeds are included in the diet.

REFERENCES: Beal 1911, DeGraff et al. 1980, Howell 1952, Johnsgard 1979, Lawrence 1967, Thomas et al. 1979.


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