• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer

Red-naped Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus nuchalis ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.

Calls

  • Calls, Drums
     
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The most frequently heard call is a harsh waa given to alert their mate of danger or when they are disturbed. This whining scream sounds like a person pretending to cry like a small child, waa...waa...waa. They call while perched or in flight, and call more frequently in the breeding season than at other times of year. Males and females also give a dry raspy chatter in flight to each other, especially early in the breeding season. This chatter can go on for as little as a few seconds to more than 10 seconds. They give a harsh and short squeal to attract a mate.

Other Sounds

Sapsuckers have a distinctive slow and irregular drumming pattern. The drum starts off with a few quick knocks, followed by a pause and a series of irregularly spaced knocks. Both sexes drum, although males drum more often than females. Drumming serves to attract mates and to announce a birds presence within a territory.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

Red-naped Sapsuckers might make your yard their home or they may stop in along their migration route, especially if you have apsen, birch, or pines in your yard. If you are worried about sapsuckers hurting your trees, check out the FAQs on All About Birds.

To make your yard the best it can be for birds, learn about creating bird friendly habitat at Habitat Network.

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.

×

Search

Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
×
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.