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Campephilus rubricollis

Red-necked Woodpecker

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae

Authors: Benish, William S



The Red-necked Woodpecker is a large woodpecker with a striking assemblage of distinctive black, red and rufous colored plumage. Male Red-necked Woodpecker by V. HobusThe crest and neck are long. The bill is large, chisel-tipped and pale grayish-white to ivory-colored. The eye is yellowish-white. In both sexes, the upperparts are entirely black. The head and neck are mostly red. Females vary from males mainly in having a black-bordered, broad whitish stripe from the base of the bill to below and beyond the eye. Underparts are plain red to rufous-cinnamon or rufous-chestnut colored.

Female Red-necked Woodpecker near cavity in Reserva Municipal de Claudia, Matto Grosso, in northern Brazil. By Valdir Hobus.

Similar Species

The distribution of Red-necked Woodpecker overlaps with large portions of the ranges of two other large woodpeckers, Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos) and Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus) but habitat preferences differ between these three species at most sites. Red-necked Woodpecker is easily distinguished from both of those species by its uniform black back and rufous underparts (Hilty and Brown 1986). 

Red-necked Woodpecker habitat is adjacent to habitat of Crimson-bellied Woodpecker (Campephilus haematogaster) in Ecuador and in eastern Peru, places where they may share limited elevational overlap (Schulenberg 2007: 288) (See also, e.g., range maps for each species at NatureServe website). It is most similar in plumage pattern to Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, but Red-necked Woodpecker lacks the black throat and striped facial pattern of that species.


The main vocalization of Red-necked Woodpecker, emitted by both sexes, is an explosive nasal call ("ngkah-ngkah" or "kikka") that is given repeatedly (ML11467 and XC38651) (Winkler et al. 1995:347). It is similar to loud calls of Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) (Winkler et al. 1995, Short 1970:122). In addition, "churring" calls ("ca-wa-rr-r" ) may be emitted when birds are agitated (ML30549, ML126842 and XC75343). Juveniles give excited begging cries in quick succession ("uhr-ah") when parents arrive at the nest cavity to feed them (XC2831). A squeaky sounding, begging call of a juvenile female during foraging can be heard at ML126868.

Nonvocal Sounds

The drum of Red-necked Woodpecker is a loud double-rap (XC14693) typical of woodpeckers in the Campephilus genus. Double-raps are used to mark territory and as a location signal between members of a pair. While foraging Red-necked Woodpecker makes tapping sounds of varying volume with its bill against tree trunks and branches as it pries and hammers wood (XC34666). Wing feathers are stiff and often noisy in flight (Hilty and Meyer de Schauensee 2003: 475) as can be heard with vocalizations at XC63270.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The Red-necked Woodpecker is sexually dimorphic. Differences between sexes are visible in head plumage. These differences are very similar to those present in two other members of the same Campephilus genus, the Cream-backed Woodpecker and Robust Woodpecker. The following description is from Winkler et al. (1995) and Short (1982).

Both sexes: Crest and entire neck to lower breast or abdomen bright red. Upperparts entirely black to brownish-black. Wings are black with extensive rufous on inner vanes of flight feathers. Flight feathers rarely bear rufous to whitish tips to primaries. Underwing is rufous with darker coverts and blackish tips and trailing edge. Tail is black above with four strong feather shafts; brownish-black below. Underparts are unbarred, red and rufous to rufous-cinnamon below.

Adult male: The entire head and neck is red with an inconspicuous black-and-white spot on the lower, rear feathers that cover the bird's ear opening.

Adult female: Lacks black-and-white oval on ear coverts. Females have a black-bordered, broad whitish stripe from the base of the bill to below and beyond the eye. Chin is black.

Immature: Juveniles resemble adults but are duller, with blacks appearing more brownish and reds more orange in color. Immature males have a whitish moustache, usually showing some red feathers too. Immature females have more black in facial markings than adult females.

Bare Parts

Bill is long, chisel-tipped and pale grayish-white to ivory-colored. Eye is yellowish-white. Legs and feet are blackish-gray or olive. Forth toe is longest (Bock and Miller 1959:21-22).


Wing: 169-206 millimeters (Short 1982).

Tail: 115-121 millimeters, in trachelopyrus (Winkler et al. 1995).

Bill: 42-47 millmeters, in trachelopyrus (Winkler et al. 1995).

Weight: 178-236 grams (Short 1982).


Annual molt times that vary depending upon locations and subspecies are detailed in Short (1982) as follows. (See the next section below for subspecies descriptions).

C. r. rubricollis, July to October in the Guianas, June to December or even February in Venezuela, September in Colombia and July to December in northern Brazil.

C. r. trachelopyrus, July to February in Peru.

C. r. olalle, September to February in Bolivia, June and July on the Tapajoz River, August and September on the Xingu River, November and December on the Tocantins River, and September to February along the lower Amazon River.

Geographic Variation

Red-necked Woodpecker is polytypic, with three subspecies that vary slightly in size and plumage. The following descriptions are from Winkler et al. (1995) and Short (1982).

Nominate C. r. rubricollis in the northern part of range in the Guianas, Colombia, and Venzuela to Ecuador and the north bank of the Amazon River. Described above. It is the smallest subspecies and tends to have pale rufous underparts. Intergrades with trachelopyrus in southwest of range (i.e., Ecuador, northern Peru and northwestern Brazil).

C. r. trachelopyrus from northeast Peru to La Paz, Bolivia. Large and darker, more chestnut below than nominate. Red feather tips extending to lower breast or belly. Rufous wing patch that extends to outer vanes of the outer primaries.

C.r. olallae south of the Amazon, from Madeira River to Pará and Maranhão in Brazil and south to Cochabamba in Bolivia. Intermediate in size between the other two species. Resembles trachelopyrus, but brighter in red and rufous colors. 


The name Campephilus ("lover of grubs") refers to the diet of this group that feed mainly on beetle larvae, by George Robert Gray in 1840, an English zoologist and author. C. rubricollis, nominate Red-necked Woodpecker species, was named in 1783 by Pieter Boddaert, a Dutch physician and naturalist. Subspecies C. r. trachelopyrus was named in 1857 by Alfred Malherbe, a French magistrate and naturalist. Subspecies C. r. olallae named in 1945 by N. Glydenstolpe, a Swede (Zoonomen 2011).

Fleischer et al. (2006) reported the first molecular phylogeny for the genus Campephilus, based on mitochondrial DNA sequence data. This survey, which omitted two species, Robust Woodpecker (Campephilus robustus) and Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus), places Red-necked Woodpecker in a clade with one sister species, the Cream-backed Woodpecker (Campephilus leucopogon). The basal member in the genus is the Crimson-bellied Woodpecker (C. haematogaster).

The 11 member species of this New World genus are similar in coloration, habits, and tail and foot structure (Short 1970, 1982 p. 432). It seems that the greatest diversification of the Campephilus genus occurred in South America after the lineage ancestor entered South America across the Isthmus of Panama (Moore et al. 2011). The estimated divergence date between two sister clades comprising the northern ivory-bills and other Campephilus, occurred 3.2 MYBP (Moore et al. 2011).

Recommended Citation

Benish, William S. 2011. Red-necked Woodpecker (Campephilus rubricollis), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: