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White-breasted Nuthatch

The Birdhouse Network's Most Wanted
Twelfth in a series

White-breasted Nuthatch by Lyn Winans

Cool fact: The name "nuthatch" may refer to this bird's habit of lodging seeds into crevices of trees, then "hatching" the seeds by hammering them open.

Description: Male and female White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) are similar in appearance, but the cap is black on males and grayish in females. Both sexes have a bluish-gray back and white chin, throat, breast, and belly. The undertail coverts and sides vary from a dull to bright rusty color. The long bill, nearly as long as the head, is very obvious.

Breeding range: This species is a year-round resident throughout most of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. Irruptive movements have been reported in northern and western populations.

Preferred habitat: White-breasted Nuthatches favor mature deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, preferring to nest near open areas and forest edges.

Diet: White-breasted Nuthatches probe tree trunks for insect prey and cached seeds, typically walking on tree trunks head-down. They regularly visit bird feeders.

Conservation status: White-breasted Nuthatch numbers are stable or increasing throughout their range. Significant declines are reported in the Driftless area of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, as well as the Cascade Mountains of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Breeding Bird Survey Trends, 1996-2005
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966?2005. Version 6.2.2006. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MDv

Causes of decline: Forest fragmentation and the removal of old trees with natural cavities may reduce available nest sites and nuthatch densities.

Nest-box tips: Although White-breasted Nuthatches don't typically nest in boxes, they can be attracted to use them in areas where natural cavities are scarce. The nest box should be at least 8 feet off the ground and the hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in the box to promote excavation.

Number of records for this species in TBN's database: 107

How can you help? Although White-breasted Nuthatches are fairly common and widespread, surprisingly little is known of their breeding biology, in part because their nests are often difficult to monitor. For example, there is very little data on egg laying, incubation behavior, and condition of hatchlings and young birds. Contribute to the study of the White-breasted Nuthatch by participating in The Birdhouse Network (see for instructions).


For permission to reprint all or part of this article, please contact Laura Erickson, editor, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd., Ithaca, NY, 14850. Phone: (607) 254-1114. email:

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