The white-breasted nuthatch is a perky, agile bird that is amazing to watch as it heads up and down tree trunks catching insects. With its beautiful, crisp plumage, this bird is easy to identify and as the largest and most common North American nuthatch, it easily finds its way onto many birders’ life lists.
- Bill: Long, black, slightly upturned
- Size: 5-6 inches long with 10-inch wingspan, short tail and neck
- Colors: Black, white, blue gray, chestnut
- Markings: Male and female birds look alike with a white face, throat and breast and black or blue gray cap and nape of neck. The back is blue gray and the wings and tail are slightly darker with white edging. The flanks, abdomen and undertail coverts have a chestnut wash over a dull white. The legs and feet are black.
Nuts, seeds, spiders, insects
Habitat and Migration:
White-breasted nuthatches are common all year in oak and pine forests throughout the United States, southern Canada and central Mexico. They can be rare in the southeastern United States, the Great Plains and southern Texas, where their preferred forest habitats are scarce.
The white-breasted nuthatch has a nasal, rapid “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa” call of short, evenly spaced, rapid notes. The birds also use a soft, slow buzz and a rapid two second chatter for different calls. The exact vocalizations for eastern, western interior and Pacific populations can vary.
These birds stay in pairs year round and can be found mostly in trees. Their extra long hind claws give them superb balance and they head up and down tree trunks and along narrow branches hunting insects. At feeders, white-breasted nuthatches can be mildly aggressive toward other birds, but outside the nesting season they have been known to congregate in mixed flocks with black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers and brown creepers.
White-breasted nuthatches are monogamous birds and pairs will raise one brood of 4-9 eggs per year. The female parent incubates the eggs for 12 days, and both sexes feed the altricial young for 14 days until they are ready to leave the nest.
Attracting White-Breasted Nuthatches:
White-breasted nuthatches are common backyard birds attracted to suet feeders. They will also take nuts and large seeds, such as black oil sunflower seeds, and they have been known to use nesting and roosting boxes if available. Birders should avoid cutting down mature oak or pine trees that these birds use for feeding.
- Red-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)
- Brown-Headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla)
- Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)
Photo – White-Breasted Nuthatch © pbonenfant