Energetic and excitable, the red-breasted nuthatch is often a favorite backyard bird. Its colorful plumage is easily identifiable, and with its bold personality it can easily become tame enough to be hand-fed by patient birders.
- Bill: Straight, thin, black
- Size: 4.5 inches long with 8-inch wingspan, short tail
- Colors: Black, white, blue-gray, rust, buff
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a heavily marked face with white cheeks and thick white eyebrow contrasting with a thick black eyeline and a black cap and nape. The upperparts, wings and rump are blue-gray and contrast with the rich rust-colored underparts. Females have similar markings but are paler overall, with a gray cap and facial markings and buff underparts. For both genders, the legs and feet are dark and white patches show on the tail in flight.
Seeds, nuts, insects
Habitat and Migration:
The red-breasted nuthatch lives year-round in boreal habitats and mixed coniferous forests throughout Canada. The birds' regular range extends into the northeastern United States and Michigan, as well as upper elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. In the west, the birds are found from the Pacific Northwest as far north as Alaska, and in the Rocky Mountain region as far south as Arizona and New Mexico. In the winter, these birds can irrupt and may extend their range throughout the continental United States if food sources are scarce, though regular migrations are relatively unpredictable.
These birds have a nasal voice and a loud "yank-yank-yank" song that includes 4-6 or more syllables of the same pitch and rhythm. Their agitated call is a nasal "yip-yip-yip" that is also even spaced, but has a faster rhythm and more syllables.
The red-breasted nuthatch is most often a solitary bird, but may be seen in pairs during the breeding season. In fall and winter, they frequently form mixed foraging flocks with chickadees, kinglets, creepers and other nuthatches. While foraging, red-breasted nuthatches climb headfirst down trees or on the underside of limbs while they probe for insects and seeds, and they have been known to cache food in the rough bark of trees.
These are monogamous birds and mate after a male tenderly feeds a female and turns his back to her in a courtship display that includes weaving, bobbing and ruffling feathers. The female will incubate a brood of 2-8 eggs for 12 days, and both parents feed the altricial young for an additional 15-20 days. Red-breasted nuthatches raise only one brood annually.
Attracting Red-Breasted Nuthatches:
These birds readily come to backyards where sunflower seeds, suet, peanut butter and nuts are available. Birders can further attract red-breasted nuthatches with mature conifers for shelter and foraging, and by leaving leaf litter intact in the fall for the seeds, insects and nuts these birds eat in the winter.
- White-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
- Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
- Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
Photo – Red-Breasted Nuthatch © pbonenfant