Nape - Bird Anatomy

Parts of a Bird

Northern Flicker Showing Red Nape
Yellow-shafted northern flickers have a distinct red nape. Photo © Matt MacGillivray/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Most birders use the terms nape and hindneck interchangeably, but there are differences between the two and how these different parts of a bird are classified. In general, the nape is a shorter section of the back of the neck, just below the crown. The hindneck, on the other hand, is the entire back of the neck, from the base of the crown down to the upper back.

What Is a Bird's Nape?

The nape is the back of a bird's neck. The color of the nape will often match either the bird's crown or back, and that color may extend onto the sides of the neck to varying degrees depending on the species.


(rhymes with cape, tape, and vape)

Birds with shorter necks, such as passerines, raptors, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, swifts, and swallows, have a distinct nape, but the hindneck is not usually noted or distinguished because the neck is not long enough. Birds with very long necks, however, have a prominent hindneck that can be noted separately from the nape. These birds include pelicans, wild turkeys, pheasants, flamingos, cranes, egrets, herons and many other types of wading birds, swans, waterfowl and larger shorebirds. On these long-necked birds, the nape is a short patch just below the crown, and the hindneck extends down the back of the rest of the neck.

What a Nape Isn't

It is important to note how the nape compares and contrasts to similar parts of a bird or different plumage structures to be sure it is carefully identified. A nape is not a...

  • Crown: This is the very top of the birds head, and while the crown and nape are adjacent parts of a bird, each one is distinct. When the nape is distinctly colored, the crown may be the same color or could contrast with the plumage of the nape.
  • Plume: Some birds have plumes that extend from the crown or nape, and can drape gracefully over the nape. These elongated feathers or streamers are not the nape, however - the nape is the actual structure of the neck.
  • Auricular: A bird's auriculars are the small, short feathers that cover the cheeks on the sides of the face, below and slightly behind the eye. The rear of this area does border the nape, but it is a different part of a bird's head and facial anatomy.
  • Gorget: The gorget is the front of a bird's neck, not the back. The gorget or throat often contrasts with other plumage or may have distinct markings, such as borders or spotting. On some birds, such as hummingbirds, the gorget can be iridescent.
  • Mantle: The mantle is a bird's upper back, between the shoulders. While adjacent to the lowest part of the hindneck, this is still a distinct part of a bird's anatomy and is not considered part of the nape, neck or hindneck.

Identifying Birds by Nape

The nape can be a good field mark to properly identify a bird. When using the nape to identify a bird, note color differences and contrasts compared to the head, crown and back. The nape may also have spots, streaks or stripes, and the width of color on the nape can vary.

In some closely related species, the nape can be a diagnostic marking to tell the species apart. For example, the nape is dark on both Clark's grebes and western grebes, but Clark's grebes have a much narrower band of color. When comparing sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks, the sharp-shinned hawk has a uniform nape that blends well with the crown. Cooper's hawks have darker crowns that contrast more sharply with the paler nape.

Another useful way to use the nape is to determine a bird's gender. Many woodpeckers, for example, have colored napes that can be useful for distinguishing between male and female birds. The nape is red on males for both hairy woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers, for instance, while the nape on the females is black.

Also Known As