Red-naped Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus nuchalis

The Red-naped Sapsucker is a woodpecker of the lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains. It prefers to make sap wells in willow trees, but will use a variety of tree species.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The Red-naped Sapsucker is closely related to the Yellow-bellied and Red-breasted sapsuckers. All three were formerly considered races of the yellow-bellied. The red-naped hybridizes where it comes in contact with the other two species, and birds intermediate in plumage are sometimes found.
  • Sapsuckers do not suck sap, but are specialized for sipping it. Their tongues are shorter than those of other woodpeckers, and do not extend as far out. The tip of the tongue has small hair-like projections on it that help pick up the sap, much like a paintbrush holds paint.
  • Sap wells made by sapsuckers attract other sap feeders, especially hummingbirds. Although the woodpecker may eat some insects that are attracted, others are treated as competitors and are chased away.


Adult Description

  • Medium-sized woodpecker.
  • White stripe running up side.
  • Messy black and whitish barring on back.

Male Description

Throat completely red.

Female Description

Throat red, chin white. Extent of red variable, some with entire throat red.

Immature Description

Juvenile similar to adult, but head markings obscured because of paleness, with black replaced with brownish.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
     Subfamily: Picinae
Genus: Sphyrapicus
Species: Sphyrapicus nuchalis
Call a harsh mewing "waah." Drumming a distinctive slow irregular tapping, easily imitated by tapping on a tree with a stick.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 20-23 cm (8-9 in)
  • Weight: 68 g (2.4 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: White, Black
  • Underparts: Black breast and yellow-washed white belly.
  • Upperparts: Black with white barring.
  • Back Pattern: Barred or banded
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: Dagger, All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Brown.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Striped, Unique pattern
  • Crown Color: Red
  • Forehead Color: Red
  • Nape Color: Red
  • Throat Color: Red
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Alternates several rapid shallow wing beats with short glides.
  • Wingspan Range: 41-46 cm (16-18 in)
  • Wing Shape: Tapered-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Rounded Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Barred
  • Upper Tail: Black with black and white barring on central feathers.
  • Under Tail: Black
  • Leg Color: Black
  • Breeding Location: Forest edge
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Loose colonies
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: White
  • Number of Eggs: 5 - 6
  • Incubation Days: 12 - 13
  • Egg Incubator: Both sexes
  • Nest Material: Few wood chips in tree.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Naked and helpless.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Pic nuque rouge (French)
  • Chupasavia nuquirroja (Spanish)
  • Sapsuckers are the only woodpeckers to have the vertical white stripe on the side.
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker very similar, but usually without red spot in white stripe across the back of the head, and back more white. Red throat of male yellow-bellied is separated from the white by a black border, but in red-naped male the black border is missing or is incomplete. Female red-naped has red throat with a broad black border, but has white chin and red on nape.
  • Red-breasted Sapsucker has extensive red across the head, but some still show striped face pattern.
  • Williamson's Sapsucker male has all black back and mostly dark head. Female and juvenile Williamson's Sapsucker more cleanly barred across entire plumage, and head pale brown

Conservation Status

Historically shot as an orchard pest; protected now. Populations appear stable, but forestry practices may affect abundance in particular areas.








Sources used to Construct this Page:

  • Breeds in deciduous and mixed montane forests, often associated with willows and aspens.
  • Winters in diverse habitats, including orchards and pine-oak woodlands.
  • Walters, E. L., E. H. Miller, and P. E. Lowther. 2002. Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) and Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis). In The Birds of North America, No. 662 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Sap, fruit, arthropods.
Forages for insects by gleaning, probing, prying, tapping, and flycatching. Drills series of shallow holes in bark of tree, licks up sap.

Adult Sexes Similar

Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar




All photos 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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