Bird’s ID – White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch


The White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is a small songbird of the nuthatch family which breeds in old-growth woodland across much of temperate North America. It is a stocky bird, with a large head, short tail, powerful bill, and strong feet. The upperparts are pale blue-gray, and the face and underparts are white. It has a black cap and a chestnut lower belly. The nine subspecies differ mainly in the color of the body plumage.

Like other nuthatches, the white-breasted nuthatch forages for insects on trunks and branches and is able to move head-first down trees. Seeds form a substantial part of its winter diet, as do acorns and hickory nuts that were stored by the bird in the fall. The nest is in a hole in a tree, and the breeding pair may smear insects around the entrance as a deterrent to squirrels. Adults and young may be killed by hawks, owls, and snakes, and forest clearance may lead to local habitat loss, but this is a common species with no major conservation concerns over most of its range.

Like other members of its genus, the white-breasted nuthatch has a large head, short tail, short wings, a powerful bill and strong feet; it is 13–14 cm (5.1–5.5 in) long, with a wingspan of 20–27 cm (7.9–10.6 in) and a weight of 18–30 g (0.63–1.06 oz).

The adult male of the nominate subspecies, S. c. carolinensis, has pale blue-gray upperparts, a glossy black cap (crown of the head), and a black band on the upper back. The wing coverts and flight feathers are very dark gray with paler fringes, and the closed wing is pale gray and black, with a thin white wing bar. The face and the underparts are white. The outer tail feathers are black with broad diagonal white bands across the outer three feathers, a feature readily visible in flight.

The female has, on average, a narrower black back band, slightly duller upperparts and buffer underparts than the male. Her cap may be gray, but many females have black caps and cannot be reliably distinguished from the male in the field.

The breeding habitat of the white-breasted nuthatch is woodland across North America, from southern Canada to northern Florida and southern Mexico. In the eastern part of its range, its preferred habitat is old-growth open deciduous or mixed forest, including orchards, parks, suburban gardens and cemeteries.  Pinyon-juniper and riverside woodlands may be used locally where available. The white-breasted nuthatch is the only North American nuthatch usually found in deciduous trees; red-breasted, pygmy and brown-headed nuthatches prefer pines.

The presence of mature or decaying trees with holes suitable for nesting is essential, and trees such as oak, beech and hickory are favored in the east since they also provide edible seeds. Although suitable habitat is distributed continentally, it is discontinuous, and the separate populations of this non-migratory species have diverged to form distinct regional subspecies.

This nuthatch, like most of its genus, is non-migratory, and the adults normally stay in their territory year-round. 


Photo Gallery



© HJ Ruiz – Avian101

14 thoughts on “Bird’s ID – White-breasted Nuthatch

    • Thank you Chris. These birds move constantly in all directions. I pick the overhead shots that show more of the bird’s body. 🙂

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