Wryneck

Jynx torquilla and Jynx ruficollis

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Yuriy Balagula/Shutterstock.com

They feign death by making their bodies limp and closing their eyes.

Wryneck Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Piciformes
Family
Picidae
Genus
Jynx
Scientific Name
Jynx torquilla and Jynx ruficollis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Wryneck Conservation Status


Wryneck Facts

Prey
Ants, beetles, larvae, spiders, moths, and woodlice
Main Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Semi-social
Fun Fact
They feign death by making their bodies limp and closing their eyes.
Estimated Population Size
Unknown
Biggest Threat
Climate change, habitat loss, and pesticides
Most Distinctive Feature
Camouflage plumage
Distinctive Feature
Slender legs, pointed beaks
Wingspan
10.5 inches
Incubation Period
12 days
Age Of Fledgling
20 days
Habitat
Parks, gardens, orchards, open country, deciduous woodlands, and coniferous forests.
Predators
Stoats, weasels, birds of prey
Diet
Insectivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Ants
Type
Bird
Common Name
Wryneck
Special Features
Backward facing toes help them walk and run
Number Of Species
1
Location
Africa, Europe, Asia
Nesting Location
Preexisting tree trunk holes, wall crevices, nesting boxes, and bank holes.
Age of Molting
One year
Migratory
1

Wryneck Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Chestnut
  • Light-Brown
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
An average of 3.5 years
Weight
0.92 to 1.76 ounces
Length
6.5 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
One year

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“When threatened, they twist their head like a snake and hiss.”

Summary

The wryneck is an unusual bird from the woodpecker family. It has an impressive range throughout three continents, including Africa, Europe, and Asia. They live in forests and woodlands, but you can also find them in suburban parks and gardens during the breeding season. However, climate change has affected one species’ numbers and limited their reproduction ability. Discover everything there is to know about this curious bird, including where they live, what they eat, and how they behave.

5 Amazing Wryneck Facts

  • Wrynecks have an extensive range, spanning over 100 countries across three continents.
  • Their nickname is “snake-bird” because they twist their neck and hiss at predators to imitate a snake.
  • They have backward-facing toes that allow them to cling to vertical structures like tree trunks while they forage for insects.
  • Their favorite food is ants!
  • If their defense tactics don’t work, they feign death by making their bodies limp and closing their eyes.

Where to Find the Wryneck

The wryneck lives in at least 100 countries across three continents: Africa, Europe, and Asia. You can find them in the United Kingdom, India, China, Nigeria, Italy, and many more places. They inhabit temperate regions in Europe and Asia during the warmer months and migrate to tropical areas in Africa and Asia during the winter. The red-necked wryneck is a resident in its environment, which includes Sub-saharan Africa (South Africa, Cameroon, Congo, etc.). In the summer, you can find them in parks, gardens, orchards, open country, deciduous woodlands, and coniferous forests. They live in savannas, secondary woodlands, and woodland edges in their African habitats. You can also find some in Japanese and Southern Chinese coastal areas.

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Wryneck Nest

The nesting site varies by availability and includes preexisting tree trunk holes, wall crevices, nesting boxes, and bank holes. Their goal is to find a spot in a safe, secure area away from predators. They will eject owners from their holes and burrows when necessary and take up residence. They don’t use any nesting material.

Scientific Name

The wryneck (Jynx) is from the Piciformes order, which includes nine families of large arboreal birds. Woodpeckers, wrynecks, piculets, and sapsuckers belong to the Picidae family, and most species live in forest or woodland habitats. Their genus, Jynx, is Ancient Greek for “lynx,” a mythological nymph who used enchantments to cast spells. This genus contains two species: the Eurasian and red-throated (rufous-throated) wrynecks.

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

Wryneck
Wrynecks are most likely monogamous and mate for life, and the breeding season runs from April to June.

©Edgar Smislov/Shutterstock.com

Wrynecks are long, slim birds that measure around 6.5 inches and weigh between 0.92 and 1.76 ounces. Their wingspan is approximately 10.5 inches, and have long, pointed beaks, though not as long as other woodpeckers. They also have slender legs and backward-facing toes that allow them to cling to trees. Its coloring is a mottled brown with light brown, rufous (reddish-brown), and black bars and markings. The rufous-necked wryneck has a patch of reddish-brown fur on its chest near its neck. These birds are relatively social and form small groups during the winter and live in pairs during breeding. Their calls consist of harsh, repeated phrases similar to a lesser spotted woodpecker. They also produce staccato alarm calls and hissing noises when threatened. Wrynecks can turn their heads 180 degrees and use this feature for communicating threats, distress, or courtship.

Migration Pattern and Timing

Rufous-necked wrynecks are nonmigratory and live in their African environments year-round. The Eurasian wryneck is primarily migratory, except for populations in Northwest Africa. Others breed across Europe and Northern Asia and winter in the tropical areas of Africa (Cameroon and the Central African Republic) and Southern Asia (India and China).

Diet

Wrynecks are insectivores who spend most of their time foraging in trees.

What Does the Wryneck Eat?

Ants are their primary prey, but they also consume beetles, larvae, spiders, moths, and woodlice. Wrynecks hop along the ground in low shrubs or upper tree branches and forage for insects by quickly extending and retracting their tongue. They can also climb tree trunks at a diagonal angle by clinging with their feet and using their tail as a prop. 

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists both wryneck species as LC or “least concern.” Due to their extensive range and large population sizes, they do not approach thresholds for “threatened” status. The Eurasian species has had a steady decline in population since the 1800s and 1900s. The main contributing factor to its ongoing decline is the effects of climate change. Heavy rainfall plagues their breeding season, leading to less successful reproduction. Other factors include habitat loss and pesticide use. The rufous-necked does not appear to have any significant threats. In fact, their numbers are on a steady incline.

What Eats the Wryneck?

The wryneck’s predators include stoats, weasels, and birds of prey (hawks, eagles, and owls). Thankfully, this bird has a few tricks to keep them away. Its plumage blends with its environment, essentially camouflaging it from nearby intruders. If they become disturbed at their nest, they perform a snake-like head twist while hissing. This threat display mimics a snake and deters many predators. Other defenses include crouching in open areas and feigning death by hanging limp and closing their eyes. 

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Wrynecks are most likely monogamous and mate for life, and the breeding season runs from April to June. Females lay between five to twelve dull white eggs; both sexes take turns incubating for approximately 12 days. Both parents feed the chicks, and they fledge the nest around 20 days old. Their young are sexually mature after one year and molt annually. They live an average of 3.5 years but can live up to five or ten.

Population

The global wryneck population is unknown, but Eurasian wrynecks account for at least three million to seven million mature individuals. However, that species has a decreasing population trend and has had a steady decline since the 19th century. Its downward trend is associated with climate change, the agricultural industry, and pesticides. The rufous-necked has an increasing population trend in South Africa due to the introduction of trees into grasslands.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Wryneck FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are wrynecks rare in UK?

Their population is in the millions, but they are relatively uncommon in the UK, with only a few hundred migrating through Britain.

Why is it called a wryneck?

They can turn their heads almost 180 degrees and twist their neck in a motion similar to a snake.

Where do wrynecks come from?

The wryneck lives in at least 100 countries across three continents: Africa, Europe, and Asia. You can find them in the United Kingdom, India, China, Nigeria, Italy, and many more places.

What does a wryneck eat?

Ants are their primary prey, but they also consume beetles, larvae, spiders, moths, and woodlice.

Where do wrynecks nest?

The nesting site varies by availability and includes preexisting tree trunk holes, wall crevices, nesting boxes, and bank holes.

What does a wryneck sound like?

Their calls consist of harsh, repeated phrases similar to a lesser spotted woodpecker. They also produce staccato alarm calls and hissing noises when threatened.

What does a wryneck look like?

They are slim birds with slender legs and pointed beaks. Its coloring is a mottled brown with light brown, rufous (reddish-brown), and black bars and markings. The rufous-necked wryneck has a patch of reddish-brown fur on its chest near its neck.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=wryneck&searchType=species
  2. IBIS International Journal of Avian Science, Available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2009.00956.x
  3. Ringing & Migration Volume 32 / Jacques Laesser & Rien van Wijk, Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03078698.2017.1437889

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