White-breasted nuthatches are
very agile and you will often see them hopping down a tree
Identification and Pictures
(Sitta Carolinensis) or the Upside-Down Bird
compact little birds about 6 inches long with a short neck, stubby
tails, and short wings. This is the most widespread of the 4 species of
North America. They have a black cap on a white face with a
beady black eye. The back is blue-gray. Chest and under parts
are white with a bit of chestnut. Their head is large
for their size, and they have a strong bill like a woodpecker,
good for probing in crevices. Their bill is longer in
proportion to their head than other nuthatches. The sexes look alike except
the male may be a bit more colorful, and the female's cap may
be gray instead of black. Their strong feet enable them
to climb up and down tree trunks. There are nine
subspecies, and the looks and songs vary from one to another.
The name Nuthatch
came from the way it wedges nuts into the crevices of bark
and hacks them open with its strong bill.
Three other similar, but smaller nuthatches
are the Red-breasted,
Brown-headed, and Pigmy nuthatches.
Get a puzzle of a
Photos by Keith Lee. The camera I use is
Nuthatch Songs and Calls
They sing a vibrant series of nasal notes
like whi whi whi , who who who, eh eh eh, yank yank yank, or
Listen to sound
Range and Habitat
They can be found year round from southern Canada
through the U.S. to southern Mexico. White-breasted
nuthatches like deciduous, and coniferous forests,
woodlands, river groves, shade trees, and backyards with trees,
and feeders. Especially liked are old trees with large
trunks. Unlike other North American nuthatches which
prefer pine trees, White-breasted nuthatches like deciduous
trees. In winter they will travel with mixed flocks of
birds such as chickadees, and
it easier to find food, and providing more protection from
predators. Recent studies show that nuthatches
understand the alarm calls of chickadees.
Breeding and Nesting
Breeding season varies by region. White
breasted nuthatches are monogamous. The male will sing from a perch.
When the female
approaches he will start bowing and waving as he sings. They
will feed each other as the courtship moves forward. A
pair will stay together all year. Although a pair may stay close together
during winter, and even visit your feeders together they will
roost in separate holes at night, unless the weather is cold,
in which case several may roost together.
The nest will be in a natural tree cavity or even an old
woodpecker hole. They may use your birdhouse. While White-breasted
nuthatches often look for a cavity already
made, Red-breasted, Brown-headed and Pigmy nuthatches will
excavate their own. The cavity
floor is pieces of bark, and lumps of earth. The female
will build the nest alone and it will be lined
with shreds of bark, grass, fur, hair, and feathers.
will often rub a beetle around cavity hole. It is
thought that this leaves a chemical residue that helps deter
breasted nuthatches raise one brood per year. The male
will feed the female while she incubates 5
to 9, smooth slightly glossy eggs for around 2 weeks. The eggs are white, cream
or pinkish, and spotted with light red, reddish-brown, or
purplish spots. The young birds will be fed by both
parents. They will fledge in 18 to 26 days, and will be fed after
leaving the nest for another 2 weeks. The young birds
will then leave the territory, and either establish their own
or become what are called floaters.
Food and Feeding
Natural foods are insects such as beetles, and
caterpillars. They like acorns, nuts, and seeds from pinecones.
They will forage on tree trunks, much like woodpeckers, but
they do not use their tail for support. Their strong
legs, and feet allow them to climb up, and down trees, and they
will often be seen head down. This upside down foraging
allows them to find food in crevices that other trunk feeders
might miss. Nuthatches will store
food in bark crevices, and small holes in trees for winter use, and for the female to eat
while she is incubating eggs.
You can attract them to your yard with suet, and feeders with
sunflower seeds, and nuts. You are more likely to see them if
you have shade trees. They can be quite aggressive at
feeders. With wings spread they will swing from side
to side to keep other birds away.
With a little patients you can get nuthatches
to eat from your hand. Let them get used to you by a
feeder, then hold out your hand with sunflower seeds in it.
View video of nuthaches
eating from hand.
For more on food
and feeding click here.
For more on feeders click here.
To learn about other favorite
birds click here.