Description 5 - 6" Blue-gray above, white underparts and face, black crown.
Males have black caps, which extend to their necks and partially around the neck like
a collar. Females' caps are similar, but gray. Both sexes have strong legs and toes,
long, curved talons, and a long, strong bill.
Habitat Deciduous and mixed forests. They will use Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir,
and black cottonwood stands.
Diet Insects and spiders are the main food in the summer. During winter,
White-breasted Nuthatches eat many insects that they pry from their wintering spots
in bark crevices, but they also eat many seeds. They are familiar visitors to bird
feeders and suet cakes.
Nesting Pairs form long-term bonds and remain on nesting territories year round.
White-breasted Nuthatches do not generally excavate their own holes, but nest in a
natural cavity or old woodpecker hole. They may occasionally use artificial nest boxes.
The female builds the nest, which is a soft cup of bark fibers, grass, hair, and
feathers. Sometimes mud is added to the entrance of the cavity, perhaps to keep
larger predators away. They will also brush the nest, inside and out, with a crushed
insect, perhaps coating the nest with chemical secretions that may keep predators
The female lays 5 to 9 white eggs, lightly speckled with red-brown. She incubates the
eggs for 12 to 14 days. The male feeds the female while she incubates and helps her
feed the young once they hatch. The young leave the nest at 14 to 26 days, but stay
with the adults for several more weeks until they become completely independent.
Range Largely resident from British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia south to
southern California, Arizona, Gulf Coast, and central Florida. Absent from most of
White-breasted Nuthatches are usually permanent residents but may have irruptive
movements in some winters. Essentially nonmigratory, during the fall it stores food
for winter in crevices behind loose tree bark. Although they often join mixed flocks of
chickadees, woodpeckers, and kinglets roaming the winter woods, they tend to
remain in their territories.
Voice A nasal yank-yank. Song a series of low whistled notes.
Discussion The habit of creeping headfirst down a tree trunk, then stopping and
looking around with head held out at a 90-degree angle, is characteristic of
The White-breasted is an inquisitive, acrobatic bird, pausing occasionally to hang and
hammer at a crack. Like other nuthatches, the White-breasted uses its strong legs
and claws to walk up, down, and sideways on tree trunks, probing in the bark crevices
Pygmy Nuthatch (at left)
Nuthatch (at right)