The only sapsucker normally found in the boreal and eastern parts of the continent, this species is our most highly migratory woodpecker. Monotypic (smaller, darker resident birds in southern Appalachians sometimes separated as appalachiensis). Length 8".
Shows less red on head than related red-naped and red-breasted, and the back is more extensively scalloped with yellow-buff. Adult male: forecrown, chin, and throat red, outlined completely in black; red normally lacking on nape. Adult female: similar to male, but the chin and throat are entirely white. Juvenile: head and underparts pale brownish barred with dusky black; upperparts extensively pale buff with dusky barring, becoming white on the rump. Unlike the red-breasted and the red-naped, this juvenal plumage is retained well into the winter, with the red coloration of adult plumage gradually acquired through the fall but the black-and-white head and chest pattern not appearing until late winter.
See the very similar red-naped sapsucker (formerly, along with the red-breasted, considered conspecific with the yellow-bellied).
This species, the red-breasted, and the red-naped are similar in calls and drums. Call: a nasal weeah or meeww; on territory a more emphatic quee-ark. Drum: a distinctive rhythm of a short roll of several beats, a pause, then 2 to several brief rolls of 2–3 beats each.
Status and Distribution
Common. Breeding: deciduous forests, mixed hardwoods and conifers of boreal regions and the Appalachians. Migration: main fall movement is September–October; spring migrants arrive in the Upper Midwest and Northeast during mid-April, and the northernmost breeding populations arrive late April, early May. Winter: widespread in the East south of New England and Great Lakes states, south to West Indies and Panama. Vagrant: rare but regular west to California in fall and winter, with a few records north to Washington. Accidental in Iceland, Britain, and Ireland.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006