Appalachian Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

A group of scientists and resource managers from North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia have been evaluating the conservation status of the Appalachian Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a southern Appalachian endemic subspecies.  This web site provides information on the activities of this ad hoc working group and basic information on this bird.
Group Meetings:  
  • Meeting Notes taken by K. Watson and J. Gerwin including list of participants and their contact information (updated 22 April 2002). On February 14-15 2002, scientists and resource managers met to discuss the status of the Appalachian Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (AppYBSA). Meeting participants compiled records of the AppYBSA for the southern mountains; discussed the need to know more about its population status and breeding ecology; and decided that additional surveys for this woodpecker would be warranted.
  • Meeting Notes from second meeting, August 7-8, 2002,  Asheville, NC.  Notes taken by K. Watson. Meeting participants compiled records of the AppYBSA obtained during surveys conducted during the early part of the summer.
  • Meeting Notes (draft, MS Word file) from third meeting, 27 March 2003 in Asheville, NC. Plans for 2003 surveys were made.  See map below. 
  • Meeting Notes from fourth meeting, 13 Nov 2003, Boone, NC.  Updates on research results, progress on surveys, discussion of management implications.
  • Meeting Notes from fifth meeting, 04 Nov 2004, Boone, NC.  Updates on research results, progress on surveys, discussion of management implications.
YBSA photograph

copyright 2000 by Patrick Coin,

Background on Appalachian Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The AppYBSA is considered a subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ( Sphyrapicus varius).  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers breed in the northern forests of Canada and across the northern U. S. from the eastern Dakotas to New England and south through the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and northern Virginia.  During the winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers migrate to the forests of the southeastern US.  Please look at range maps in a field guide such as the Peterson or Sibley guides to see extent of the northern breeding and southern wintering range of this species.  While the bulk of this species breeds across the northern portions of North America, a smaller set of populations that seem to be disjunct from the rest of the species breeds in the southern mountains.

An Appalachain subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breeds in the Southern Blue Ridge Province of the Appalachians in the high mountains of  southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and possibly in northern Georgia.  Most of the breeding records come from NC and the TN and VA counties bordering NC.  A morphological study by (Ganier 1954) found that the AppYBSA has more spotting on the breast and back than the northern sapsuckers giving this subspecies a darker overall appearance.  Based on existing records, this subspecies breeds in forests at elevations between 3000 ft and 5500 ft (915-1675 m) above sea level.  Nesting records exist for a range for forest conditions ranging from the edges of clearcuts and old pastures to forest  interiors and old-growth forests.  At present, the precise breeding habitat requirements of this species are poorly understood.  Moreover, it is not definitely known where these birds spend the winter.  Several authors speculate that these birds remain close to their breeding ranges but migrate to lower elevations during severe winter weather.  Sapsuckers are commonly observed in the piedmont and coastal plain of the Southeast, but these individuals are most likely birds from the northern breeding ranges (i.e., not AppYBSA).

The group meeting in Asheville identified  the need to learn more about the following issues related to AppYBSA:

Sapsucker Surveys (updated for 2003)

Additional information on the breeding distribution of the AppYBSA would help answer some of the questions listed above.  Surveys were conducted by volunteers in 2002 to expand our database of AppYBSA locations, and additional surveys are planned for the breeding season of 2003.   The map below shows general location of surveys planned by the participants in the recent meeting.  The target dates for the surveys are April 27 - June 30.  A standard survey protocol has been developed.  The protocol includes a timed point-count technique using an audio tape of sapsucker drums and calls.  The details of the protocol are available from this website. See the links below.

If you have breeding season records of AppYBSA to contribute to our dataset or are interested in assisting with these surveys, contact John Gerwin ( , 919 715-2600).

Instructions and Data Forms for AppYBSA surveys can be downloaded from the links below.

Map of 2002 surveys
Link to 2002 Survey Map .

More information on Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (YBSA)

Literature Cited

Updated:  06 April 2005 by Scott Pearson