White-breasted Nuthatch: Large nuthatch, blue-gray upperparts, black crown and nape, and white face, underparts. Tail is dark with white corners. Legs and feet are black. Female is similar but with blue-gray crown and nape. Eats spiders,insects, nuts and seeds. Weak fluttering flight, alternates rapid wing beats with periods of wings drawn to sides.
Range and Habitat
White-breasted Nuthatch: Largely resident from British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia south to California, Arizona, and northern Florida. Absent from treeless areas in the Great Plains and semiarid shrub and scrub steppe of the Great Basin. Common and widespread, inhabits mixed deciduous and coniferous forests, and prefers the presence of oak trees.
The nuthatches are one of the one hundred eighteen families of birds in the order PASSERIFORMES (pronounced pas-ser-i-FOR-meez); a large taxonomic order that also includes the wrens, swallows, and blackbirds.
There are twenty-eight species of nuthatches in one genus in the Sittidae (pronounced SIT-tuh-dee); a family with representatives in North America, North Africa, and Eurasia.
North America has four species of nuthatches in one genus. The North American members of this family are the White-breasted, Red-breasted, Brown-headed, and Pygmy Nuthatches.
The White-breasted Nuthatch (and many other members of this family), are mostly known for their manner of creeping headfirst down the trunks of trees.
The nuthatches are small, plump birds with short tails, medium length wings, and fairly large heads with a long, sharp, pointed bill that can look slightly upturned in some species. Nuthatches have fairly short, but strong, legs and feet for clinging to tree trunks.
North American members of this family have gray upperparts and white or reddish underparts. All species have varying amounts of black on the head, that of the Brown-headed Nuthatch being mostly brown, and some species have white spots in the wings and tail.
Nuthatches occur in forests and woodlands throughout North America. From the boreal zone to the oak and pine forests of the southeastern United States, at least one nuthatch species can usually be found. The Red-breasted Nuthatch occurs in coniferous forests in the boreal region, the northeastern United States, and the west. The Brown-headed and Pygmy Nuthatches are also species of coniferous forests; the Brown-headed occurring in the pinelands of the southeast, and the Pygmy in mountain forests of the west. All are replaced in deciduous forests by the White-breasted Nuthatch.
Only the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a regular, short distance migrant.
The Pygmy Nuthatch is a very social bird that forages in flocks and never roosts alone. Young birds often help their parents raise the following year’s offspring. Other nuthatches, though, aren’t as social although they often occur with other species in mixed feeding flocks. Whether foraging in flocks or alone, nuthatches descend trees headfirst in their search for nuts, seeds, and invertebrates. They will hold a nut down with their feet and hammer it with their bill to crack it open.
Although no North American nuthatches species are endangered, the Brown-headed Nuthatch has steadily declined in its fairly small range.
The Brown-headed Nuthatch is one of the only birds known to use tools. This small bird of the piney woods uses small pieces of bark to pry up the bark on trees in its search for invertebrates. The name “nuthatch” itself is thought to have evolved from the bird’s older name “nut-hack;” a name it gained from its technique of holding or wedging seeds and nuts in tree bark crevices and using its strong beak to “hack” them open.