White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Sitta carolinensis
Population size
9.2 mln
Life Span
2-12 yrs
WEIGHT
18-30 g
LENGTH
13-14 cm
WINGSPAN
20-27 cm

The White-breasted nuthatch is a small songbird common across much of temperate North America. It is stocky, with a large head, short tail, powerful bill, and strong feet. It has a black cap, white face, chest, and flanks, blue-gray upper parts, and a chestnut lower belly. Juveniles are similar to the adult, but duller plumaged.

Di

Diurnal

Om

Omnivore

Ar

Arboreal

Al

Altricial

Zo

Zoochory

Sc

Scansorial

Te

Terrestrial

Te

Territorial

Ov

Oviparous

Mo

Monogamy

So

Social

So

Solitary

No

Not a migrant

W

starts with

Distribution

Geography

Continents
Biogeographical realms

White-breasted nuthatches occur across North America, from southern Canada to northern Florida and southern Mexico. In the eastern part of their range, these birds prefer to live in old-growth open deciduous or mixed forests, including orchards, parks, suburban gardens, and cemeteries. In the west and Mexico, they inhabit open montane pine-oak woodlands. Pinyon-juniper and riverside woodlands may be used locally where available.

White-Breasted Nuthatch habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

White-breasted nuthatches are non-migratory and normally live in pairs in their territory year-round. In winter, however, they often travel with small mixed flocks of chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers. White-breasted nuthatches are diurnal. They forage along tree trunks and branches in a similar way to woodpeckers and treecreepers but do not use their tail for additional support, instead progressing in jerky hops using their strong legs and feet. When seeking food nuthatches are able to descend tree trunks head-first and can hang upside-down beneath twigs and branches. They may occasionally feed on the ground, and readily visit feeding stations especially for sunflower seeds, which they often take away to store. White-breasted nuthatches are very noisy birds having a range of vocalizations. The male's mating song is a rapid nasal 'qui-qui-qui-qui-qui-qui-qui'. The contact call between members of a pair, given most frequently in the fall and winter is a thin squeaky 'nit', uttered up to 30 times a minute. A more distinctive sound is a shrill 'kri' repeated rapidly with mounting anxiety or excitement 'kri-kri-kri-kri-kri-kri-kri-kri'; the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin populations have a higher, faster 'yididitititit' call, and Pacific birds a more nasal 'beeerf'.

Group name
Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

White-breasted nuthatches are omnivores, eating insects and seeds. In winter they eat nearly 70% seeds, but in summer it is mainly insects. The insects consumed by these birds include caterpillars, ants, and pest species such as pine weevils, oystershell, and other scale insects, and jumping plant lice. At feeding stations, they eat nuts, suet, and sunflower seeds.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
INCUBATION PERIOD
13-14 days
INDEPENDENT AGE
32-40 days
BABY NAME
chick
BABY CARRYING
5-9 eggs

White-breasted nuthatches are monogamous forming pairs that remain together year-round until one partner dies or disappears. Pairs form following a courtship in which the male bows to the female, spreading his tail and drooping his wings while swaying back and forth; he also feeds her morsels of food. The pair establish a territory where it finds the nest cavity to lay eggs; it is usually a natural hole in a decaying tree, sometimes an old woodpecker nest. The nest hole is usually 3-12 m (9.8-39.4 ft) high in a tree and is lined with fur, fine grass, and shredded bark. The clutch is 5 to 9 eggs which are creamy-white, speckled with reddish-brown. The eggs are incubated by the female for 13 to 14 days prior to hatching, and the altricial (helpless) chicks fledge in a further 18 to 26 days. Both adults feed the chicks in the nest and for about 2 weeks after fledging, and the male also feeds the female while she is incubating. Once independent, juveniles leave the adults' territory and either establish their own territory or become "floaters", unpaired birds without territories.

Population

Population threats

The White-breasted nuthatch is a common species with a large range and is not considered endangered at present. However, the removal of dead trees from forests may cause problems locally for this species because it requires cavity sites for nesting.

Population number

According to Partners In Flight resource, the total breeding population size of the White-breasted nuthatch is 9.2 million individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.

Ecological niche

White-breasted nuthatches play an important role by controlling insect populations and dispersing the seeds of many plants throughout their ecosystem.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Outside of the breeding season, White-breasted nuthatches roost in tree holes or behind loose bark and have the unusual habit of removing their feces from the roost site in the morning.
  • White-breasted nuthatches usually roost alone, however, in very cold weather, up to 29 birds may warm up together.
  • When feeding, White-breasted nuthatches place large food items such as acorns or hickory nuts in crevices in tree trunks, and then hammer them open with their strong beak; surplus seeds are often cached under loose bark or crevices of trees.
  • When sensing danger the White-breasted nuthatch defends its nest by flicking its wings while making 'hn-hn' calls. When a bird leaves the nest hole, it wipes around the entrance with a piece of fur or vegetation; this makes it more difficult for a predator to find the nest using its sense of smell.
  • White-breasted nuthatches often smear blister beetles around the entrance to their nest; it is suggested that the unpleasant smell from the crushed insects deters squirrels, which are the chief competitor for natural tree cavities.

References

1. White-Breasted Nuthatch on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-breasted_nuthatch
2. White-Breasted Nuthatch on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22711202/94283783
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/689277

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