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Red-breasted NuthatchRed-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches will come to feeders with suet and sunflower seeds.

 Identification and Pictures

(Sitta Canadensis)

Red-breasted nuthatches are very energetic, compact little birds about 4 1/2 to 4 3/4 inches long with stubby tails, thick necks, and long pointed bills.  Like all nuthatches they are very agile, and you will often see them hopping down a tree trunk headfirst.  A distinguishing feature is the broad black line through the eye, with a white line over it.  They have a black cap, blue gray back, and wings, and are rusty below.  Females, and young are less colorful then males.  They have strong legs, and feet enabling them to climb up and down tree trunks.  

Red-breasted NuthatchThey get the name Nuthatch from wedging nuts into bark crevices to hack at them with their strong bill.

Download a nuthatch puzzle.

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

Three other similar nuthatches are the White-breasted, Brown-headed, and Pigmy nuthatches.

Nuthatch Songs and Calls

Their call of ank ank, is higher and more nasal than that of White-breasted nuthatches.  As a pair moves around together they will make soft calls to each other.  Their song is a high-pitched wa-wa-wa.  Recent studies by Christopher Templeton at the University of Washington show that nuthatches understand the warning calls of chickadees.  Chickadees use different alarm calls to signal the type, and size of predators, and to get other small birds to help in mobbing a predator to chase it away.  Listen to Sound     

Range and Habitat

They can be found in parts of Canada in summer, and year round in the northwest, north, and northeast U.S.  Their winter range is through out the U.S.  They inhabit both coniferous and deciduous forests but prefer coniferous. They will usually be in pairs, but may be in mixed flocks.  

Breeding and Nesting

Breeding season begins in late April or May.  Red-breasted nuthatches are monogamous.  The male will sing from a perch.  When a female approaches he will lift his head and tail, and sway from side to side with drooping wings.

The nest will be in cavity excavated by both birds, usually in an old stump or dead tree.  They will smear pitch around the entrance to deter insects, mammals, and other birds.  A piece of bark is often used  to spread the pitch.  They will fly straight into the hole to avoid the pitch.  The female lines the inside of the nest with grass, bark fibers, moss, needles, feathers, and hair.  They sometimes use birdhouses, and old woodpecker holes.

Nuthatch egg
The female will incubate 4 to 8 white, cream or pinkish eggs, spotted with light red, reddish-brown or purplish spots.  The male will feed her while she incubates the eggs for around 2 weeks.  Both parents will feed the young birds for 18 to 21 days while they are in the nest, and for another 2 weeks after they fledge.  They normally only have one brood.  

Food and FeedingRed-breasted Nuthatch

Natural foods are insects such as beetles, and caterpillars. They also like nuts, and seeds from pinecones.  Just like White-breasted nuthatches they will work their way down a tree trunk.  They will also fly out to catch insects out of the air.  Nuthatches will store food in bark crevices, and small holes in trees for winter use.  They will come to your yard with suet, and feeders with sunflower seeds, and nuts.

Nuthatches can be fairly tame, and may even take food from your hand.  There are even reports that some nuthatches will follow a person they are used to around until they get food from them.

Hand Feeding

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 nuthatches 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.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

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