Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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 Species: Red-breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus ruber


Sapsuckers drill evenly spaced rows of holes, or “wells”, in trees for the sap and the insects they attract.  The Red-breasted Sapsucker is common along coastal ranges of the west coast of North America.  During the winter most move south or to lower elevations along the coast. 


General:  Small-medium woodpecker. Length:  20-22 cm. Weight:  39-68 g. 

Adult:  The entire head is red except for a black spot in front of the eyes and a white line from the lores to nostrils.  The red on the head extends to the nape and over the breast.  There is a large white wing-patch.  The back is black with variable amounts of white or yellow spots.  The belly is yellow and the rump white.  The sexes are alike. 

Juveniles:  Plumage is brownish, showing little or no red. 

Similar Species:  There is usually no confusion with other sapsuckers except in areas of overlap, where hybrids can occur. 

Behaviour:  Sapsuckers create sap wells, or shallow holes, in the bark of woody plants and trees and feed on sap that appears there.  They create elaborate systems of sap wells and maintain this resource throughout the day to ensure sap production.  This large investment in maintenance causes sapsuckers to defend the wells from other sapsuckers and species.  When feeding young, insects are dipped in sap wells perhaps for added nutrition. 

Habitat:  Common in coniferous or mixed forests along the coastal ranges, usually at lower elevation and in moist forests. 


The Red-breasted and Red-naped sapsuckers, together with the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker form a superspecies.  These 3 species have, for the most part, separate distributions but were long treated as forms of a single species- the “Yellow-bellied Sapsucker”- until 1983 when systematic studies warranted taxonomic treatment as separate species. 


IUCN Conservation Status listed as Least Concern.
Capture Rates

A year round resident, the Red-breasted Sapsucker's preferred habitat is coniferous forest which occurs within Colony Farm but outside of the banding area. Capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) occur in June and September as a result of few individuals moving within the park.

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