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White-breasted NuthatchWhite-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatches are very agile and you will often see them hopping down a tree trunk headfirst.

 Identification and Pictures

(Sitta Carolinensis) or the Upside-Down Bird

White-breasted NuthatchWhite-breasted nuthatches are 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 nuthatches in 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. 

Red-breasted NuthatchThe 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 Nuthatch.

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

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 too too.

 Listen to sound   sound 2

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 titmice, making 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.  They will often rub a beetle around cavity hole.  It is thought that this leaves a chemical residue that helps deter predators.

Nuthatch egg
White 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 FeedingRed-breasted Nuthatch

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. 

Hand Feeding 

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.

White-breasted Nuthatch

For more on food and feeding click here.
For more on feeders click here.
To learn about other favorite birds click here.

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