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Species Guide
A photo of a Red-throated Wryneck (Jynx ruficollis)
Red-throated Wryneck

Red-throated Wryneck

Jynx ruficollis

The red-throated wryneck, also known as the rufous-necked wryneck or red-breasted wryneck, is a member of the woodpecker family, though its behavior and morphology are quite distinct from the typical woodpecker. This slim, elongated bird measures approximately 19 cm (7.5 inches) in length and is characterized by a small head, fine bill, long fan-shaped tail, and cryptic plumage intricately patterned in greys and browns. Both sexes are similar in appearance, with males being slightly larger.

Identification Tips

In the field, the red-throated wryneck can be identified by its brown upperparts, barred and mottled in dark shades, and a grey rump with speckles of brown and black. The chin, throat, and breast of the nominate subspecies are red, while the lower breast and belly are white with dark streaks. The wings are brown above and more buff-toned below. The bill is grey, the irides are chestnut, and the legs are also grey.


The red-throated wryneck favors open grasslands with trees, particularly acacia, as well as miombo woodlands. It can also be found in semi-open woodlands, forest edges, clearings, and man-made habitats such as farmland, parks, and gardens, provided there are trees present.


This species is resident in much of sub-Saharan Africa, with its range extending from Nigeria and Cameroon in the north to South Africa and Eswatini in the south. It is found at altitudes ranging from 600 to 3,300 meters (2,000 to 10,800 feet).


The red-throated wryneck typically perches upright on a branch, often with its tail and wings pointing vertically down. When threatened, it will twist its neck and head in a snake-like manner while making a hissing sound. It flies with a bouncing motion typical of woodpeckers and is territorial, with pairs defending their space through calls from prominent perches.

Song & Calls

The bird's call is a series of repeated harsh, shrill notes, slower than that of the Eurasian wryneck. It also has an alarm call and makes wheezing squeaks as a chick, which later develop into a buzzing sound.


The red-throated wryneck nests in pre-existing holes, usually in trees, and prefers old barbet or woodpecker nests. The clutch typically consists of three or four white eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 12-15 days. The chicks are fed by both adults for 25-26 days until they fledge, and there are usually two broods.

Similar Species

The red-throated wryneck is unlikely to be confused with other species, except possibly with the Eurasian wryneck during its wintering period within the African species' range. However, the red-throated wryneck can be distinguished by its red throat, larger size, and overall browner appearance.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the red-throated wryneck is almost entirely composed of ants at all stages of their life cycles. It forages mostly on the ground, probing into ant hills, and occasionally feeds on termites and other small invertebrates.

Conservation status

The red-throated wryneck has a very extensive range, and its population is large and increasing. It is evaluated as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Red-throated Wryneck Sounds

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Red-throated Wrynecks on Birda


More Woodpeckers

A photo of a Bay Woodpecker (Blythipicus pyrrhotis) , male

Bay Woodpecker

Blythipicus pyrrhotis
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