White-breasted NuthatchSitta carolinensis

adult male
James M. Wedge/VIREO
adult female
Garth McElroy/VIREO
adult male
Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO
adult female
Brian E. Small/VIREO
adult female
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

Family

Description

Readily attracted to bird feeders for sunflower seeds or suet, the White-breasted Nuthatch may spend much of its time industriously carrying seeds away to hide them in crevices. Its nasal calls are typical and familiar sounds of winter mornings in deciduous woods over much of North America.

Habitat

Forests, woodlots, groves, shade trees. Typically in mature deciduous forest, also in mixed forest with some conifers; rarely found in pure coniferous forest. Often favors woodland edge, along rivers, roads, clearings; may be in suburbs or parks as long as large trees are present.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, also seeds. Eats mostly insects (and spiders) during summer, supplementing these with seeds in winter. Proportion of seeds in diet may vary from zero in summer to more than 60% in winter. Will also feed on suet and peanut-butter mixtures at feeders. Young are fed entirely on insects and spiders.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly on trunk and larger limbs of trees, climbing about and exploring all surfaces. Sometimes feeds on ground. During fall and winter, regularly caches food items in bark crevices on territory.

Nesting

Pairs remain together on nesting territory all year, may mate for life. Courtship behavior begins by late winter. In courtship display, male raises head, spreads tail, droops wings, sways back and forth, and bows deeply. Male also performs much courtship feeding of female. Nest site is large natural cavity or old woodpecker hole, usually 15-60' above ground; may rarely use birdhouses; may sometimes excavate own nest cavity. Female builds nest in cavity, a simple cup of bark fibers, grasses, twigs, hair. Adults may spend minutes at a time sweeping the outside and inside of nest with a crushed insect held in bill; chemical secretions of insects may help repel predators. Also sometimes adds mud to rim of nest entrance. Eggs: 5-9, rarely 10. White, spotted with reddish-brown. Female incubates, is fed on nest by male. Incubation period 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Age when young leave nest uncertain, or perhaps quite variable; reported as 14-26 days. 1 brood per year.

Eggs

5-9, rarely 10. White, spotted with reddish-brown. Female incubates, is fed on nest by male. Incubation period 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Age when young leave nest uncertain, or perhaps quite variable; reported as 14-26 days. 1 brood per year.

Young

Both parents feed young. Age when young leave nest uncertain, or perhaps quite variable; reported as 14-26 days. 1 brood per year.

Conservation

Widespread and common, with numbers stable or possibly increasing.

Range

Usually a permanent resident. In occasional years, numbers may move south in the western and northern parts of the range, in an unexplained irruptive movement; this is far less frequent and less pronounced than in the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Listen

whines
song #4
song #1
song #2
song #3
yank calls #3
yank calls #2
yank calls #1
ik & ik-up calls and tapping

Similar Species

adult

Carolina Chickadee

Very similar to the Black-capped Chickadee, this bird replaces it in the southeastern states. Living in milder climates, it has been reported to be less of a visitor to bird feeders, but it does come into suburban yards for sunflower seeds. Where the ranges of Black-capped and Carolina chickadees come together, they often interbreed. In these contact zones, they also can learn to imitate each other's songs -- causing great confusion for birdwatchers.

adult male

Red-breasted Nuthatch

With its quiet calls and dense coniferous forest habitat, this nuthatch may be overlooked until it wanders down a tree toward the ground. It often shows little fear of humans, and may come very close to a person standing quietly in a conifer grove. Red-breasted Nuthatches nest farther north and higher in the mountains than their relatives; when winter food crops fail in these boreal forests, they may migrate hundreds of miles to the south.

adult

Brown-headed Nuthatch

A small nuthatch of the southeastern pine forests. Found in pairs or family groups all year, it is often heard before it is seen; the birds call to each other constantly as they busily clamber about on the branches. In winter, small groups of Brown-headed Nuthatches often join mixed foraging flocks including chickadees, woodpeckers, and Pine Warblers.

adult

Pygmy Nuthatch

An acrobatic little bird of western pine forests, most likely to be seen in small, talkative flocks, clambering over the highest twigs, cones, and needle clusters of the tall pines. Sociable at all seasons, Pygmy Nuthatches spend the winter foraging in flocks of five to 15 birds, all roosting together at night in one cavity. Even when nesting, a pair may have as many as three additional "helpers" bringing food to the young.

adult

Brown Creeper

Looking like a piece of bark come to life, the Brown Creeper crawls up trunks of trees, ferreting out insect eggs and other morsels missed by more active birds. It is easily overlooked until its thin, reedy call gives it away. Reaching the top of one tree, it flutters down to the base of another to begin spiraling up again. Creepers even place their nests against tree trunks, tucked under loose slabs of bark, where they are very difficult to find.

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