Connecticut Audbon Society


Daily Bird: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Photo by Patrick Comins.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Sphyrapicus varius

by Andy Rseznikiewicz
February 10, 2021 — Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found throughout the state in winter. They’re a little larger and stockier than Downy Woodpeckers, black and white, with adult males sporting a bright red crown and throat. Adult females lack the red throat. They have a prominent white stripe on their wings.

In spring and summer these woodpeckers can be found nesting in the state. Until recent years they were limited to the northwest corner but they are becoming increasingly more common elsewhere. 

UConn Professor Chris S. Elphick, who is organizing the Connecticut Bird Artlas, said, “We kind of knew it had expanded. Back in the 1980s, they were just in the northwest corner and were known to have spread south and east a little.

“They’re now all the way to the coast in western Connecticut. My guess is that what’s happening is that even though the amount of forest has declined, the remaining forest is maturing.”

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are most often associated with a mix of conifer and maple forests.

They drill shallow, horizontal holes in a circular pattern around the trunks of trees, and are particularly fond of maple, apple, basswood, willow, spruce and firs. They return to these drill holes for weeks to feed on the leaking sap and on insects that become stuck in the sap. During freezing weather they will feed on beef suet hung on a tree.

A good place to look for them in winter is at Connecticut Audubon’s Center at Pomfret and the surrounding 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary. They can be found from fall til late winter in the large maple trees in front of the nature center; along Day Road, where they feed in the basswood trees; and along the Bog Trail near the boardwalk.

A tip for finding an active feeding tree: if you see a maple tree with black-looking bark on some of it, check it for drill holes; the sap that flows from the sapsucker’s drill holes turns the bark black.

Listen for their mewing call to pinpoint their location.

If you’re traveling to the Center at Pomfret to look for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, also check the Center’s feeding station for American Tree Sparrows. The hedgerows around the fields hold bluebirds, mockingbirds, robins, sparrows, and occasionally a Northern Shrike.

Conservation status: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are considered to be of least conservation concern by the IUCN.

Andy Rzeznikiewicz is the land manager at our Pomfret, Trail Wood and other preserves east of the Connecticut River.






Follow Us Facebook Twitter Instagram