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Red-naped Sapsucker

ID Info
Silhouette WoodpeckersWoodpeckers
Red-naped SapsuckerSphyrapicus nuchalis
  • ORDER: Piciformes
  • FAMILY: Picidae

Basic Description

Red-naped Sapsuckers are industrious woodpeckers with a taste for sugar. They drill neat little rows of holes in aspen, birch, and willow to lap up the sugary sap that flows out. The presence of sap wells is a good indication that they are around, but so are their harsh wailing cries and stuttered drumming. The red patch on the back of their head helps separate these sharply dressed black-and-white sapsuckers from Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the East and Red-breasted Sapsuckers along the western coastal states.

More ID Info
image of range map for Red-naped Sapsucker
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

The key to finding a Red-naped Sapsucker is to look for tiny holes drilled into trees, especially in aspen stands surrounded by willows in the Rocky Mountains. Even if you don't hear them calling or drumming, the neat rows of holes are a good clue the birds are around. Sapsuckers drum in a very distinctive, stuttering pattern, and you can use the tone of the drumming to help find the bird. If the drumming sounds hollow, look for them on a standing dead tree; if it's mores solid sounding, look for them on a live tree. They also use willows and alders, so be on the lookout for a bird awkwardly clinging vertically to tiny willow and alder stems. They tend to be more active early in the morning and early in the breeding season in mid-May, when you can watch them chasing each other around in pre-courtship games.

Other Names

  • Chupasavia Nuquirrojo (Spanish)
  • Pic à nuque rouge (French)

Backyard Tips

Red-naped Sapsuckers might make your yard their home or they may stop in along their migration route, especially if you have aspen, birch, or pines in your yard. If you are worried about sapsuckers hurting your trees, check out the FAQs on All About Birds. A suet feeder can attract sapsuckers. Try putting one up in a shady spot in your yard. Learn more about setting up a suet feeder at Project FeederWatch.

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