Sphyrapicus nuchalis

Status:  Rare casual spring migrant west, accidental east. Rare regular fall migrant west, rare casual eslewhere.

Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM6310, 13 Sep 1919 Monroe Canyon, Sioux Co (Mickel and Dawson 1920).

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).  This species was treated as a subspecies of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (AOU 1957) until recently; it is now considered a full species (Johnson and Zink 1983, Walters et al 2020).

SpringThere are eight accepted records, seven from the Panhandle and one extraordinary record from the east.

23 Mar 2020 male photographed at Ash Hollow SHP, Garden Co (Mlodinow,

10-11 Apr 2019 male photographed in Bellevue, Sarpy Co (Malcom Wilbur, via Facebook; fide JGJ; Brogie 2020).

 17 Apr 1987, a male photographed in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co (Brogie and Brogie 1987, Mollhoff 1989)

 19 Apr 2012 Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co

                25 Apr 2021 near Glen, Sioux Co (Croft,

 14 May 2016 photograph Chadron SP, Dawes Co

 18 May 2009 photographed at Wind Springs Ranch (Brogie 2009)

 4 Jun 2014 near East Ash Road, Dawes Co (Jeff Birek,

One in Hall Co 5 Mar 2007 was well-described, with no apparent hybrid characters, an early and easterly report for this species; it may have been a variant Yellow-bellied Sapsucker or an intergrade. One in Scotts Bluff Co 15 Apr 2016 may have been a hybrid based on some retained underparts feathering (Brian Sullivan, A report of one at Sidney, Cheyenne Co 12 Mar 2016 was not accepted by NOURC for lack of detail (Brogie 2017).

Fall: Sep 11, 13, 13 <<<>>> Oct 4, 6, 7

Almost all of the records are in mid-late Sep. There are later sightings 13 Oct 2006 and 16 Oct 2005 at Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co; easterly and late was one at Lake Ogallala, Keith Co 26 Oct and 2 Nov 2000 (Jorgensen 2002), the only accepted record east of the Panhandle until an extraordinary record of one in Brown Co 15-16 Sep 2018 seen by many NOU members and well-photographed (Brogie 2019). This extraordinary record was soon followed by others in Hitchcock Co 15 Sep 2019, where a female was identified from photos (Peterson et al,, and in North Platte 18 Nov 2020 (Mlodinow,

At least one Red-naped Sapsucker is found each fall at Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co (Helen Hughson, personal communication) as might be expected since there are breeding populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Peterson 1993, Tallman et al 2002) and Wyoming (Faulkner 2010). It is likely that some of the earlier sapsucker reports from the Panhandle prior to elevation of this taxon to species status are of this species, especially in fall, when the two species can be difficult to distinguish (Kaufman 2011). Reports likely to be of Red-naped Sapsuckers are 22 Sep 1990 Sioux Co, 23 Sep 1979 Dawes Co (Rosche 1982), 26 Sep 1982 Scotts Bluff Co, 28 Sep 1991 Sioux Co, 30 Sep and 1 Oct 1989 Scotts Bluff Co, and 2 Oct 1976 Scotts Bluff Co.

In fall, most Red-naped Sapsuckers depart before the arrival in the west of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers; It is useful to remember, especially in the west, that juvenile-plumaged birds seen after Aug are Yellow-bellieds, as Red-naped juveniles molt into adult plumage in Aug, prior to migration (Kaufman 1990, Walters et al 2020).

Comments:  A specimen, UNSM ZM6312, collected at Chadron 23 Sep 1919 (Mickel and Dawson 1920) is a juvenile male, but its identity to species is difficult to determine. This specimen, we believe, is most likely a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. At that date, most Red-naped Sapsuckers should show significant adult features (Kingery 1994), but this specimen shows only scattered red feathers in the throat and crown but not on the nape, in contrast with the juvenile male Red-naped Sapsucker cited above, UNSM ZM6310.


NOURC: Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee
SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Red-naped Sapsucker at Plum Valley Wildlife Management Area, Brown Co, 15 Sep 2018 by Rachel Hall.

Literature Cited

Brogie, M.A. 2009. 2009 (21st) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 77: 160-168.

Brogie, M.A. 2017. 2016 (28th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 85: 128-142.

Brogie, M.A. 2019. 2018 (30th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 87: 96-109.

Brogie, M.A., and E.M. Brogie. 1987. A Red-naped Sapsucker in Sioux County, Nebraska. NBR 55: 40.

Faulkner, D.W. 2010. Birds of Wyoming. Roberts and Company, Greenwood Village, Colorado, USA.

Johnson, N.K., and R.M. Zink. 1983. Speciation in sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus): I. Genetic differentiation. Auk 100: 871-884.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2002. 2002 (sic; =2000). (12th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 70: 84-90.

Kaufman, K. 1990. A field guide to advanced birding. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Kaufman, K. 2011. Field Guide to Advanced Birding. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Mickel, C.E., and R.W. Dawson. 1920. Some interesting records of Nebraska birds for the year 1919. Wilson Bulletin 32: 73-79.

Mollhoff, W.J. 1989. Second report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 57: 42-47.

Peterson, R.A. 1993. A birdwatcher’s guide to the Black Hills. PC Publishing, Vermillion, South Dakota, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Tallman, D.A., Swanson, D.L., and J.S. Palmer. 2002. Birds of South Dakota. Midstates/Quality Quick Print, Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA.

Walters, E.L., E.H. Miller, and P.E. Lowther. 2020. Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2021. Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 2 Jun 2021