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.

Interesting Information

  • 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

  • Length Range: 20-23 cm (8-9 in)

  • Weight: 68 g (2.4 oz)

Medium-sized woodpecker.

White stripe running up side.

Messy black and whitish barring on back.

Sex Differences

Male Description

Throat completely red.

Female Description

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


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


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Breeds in deciduous and mixed montane forests, often associated with willows and aspens.

Winters in diverse habitats, including orchards and pine-oak woodlands.


Forages for insects by gleaning, probing, prying, tapping, and flycatching. Drills series of shallow holes in bark of tree, licks up sap


Sap, fruit, arthropods.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Picidae
    Subfamily: Picinae
Genus: Sphyrapicus
Species: Sphyrapicus nuchalis

Similar Species

  • 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

Bird Sound

Call a harsh mewing "waah." Drumming a distinctive slow irregular tapping, easily imitated by tapping on a tree with a stick.

Eggs look like this