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Brown-headed Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: SITTIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

One of the few birds found almost exclusively in the United States, the Brown-headed Nuthatch is restricted to the pine forests of the southeastern states. A small but declining population is also found in the Bahamas.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
3.9–4.3 in
10–11 cm
Wingspan
6.3–7.1 in
16–18 cm
Weight
0.4 oz
10 g
Other Names
  • Sitelle à tête brune (French)
  • Sita del Pinar (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Tool use in birds is rare, but the Brown-headed Nuthatch will use a piece of bark as a lever to pry up other bark to look for food. It may carry the bark tool from tree to tree, and may use it to cover a seed cache.
  • Nests of Brown-headed Nuthatches are regularly attended by extra birds, usually young males. Whether these helpers-at-the-nest are older offspring of the breeding pair is not yet known.
  • The Brown-headed Nuthatch may sleep in a tree cavity or in the open on pine branches. The female or the breeding pair roosts in the nest cavity before the eggs are laid and throughout the nestling period.
  • The Brown-headed Nuthatch often joins mixed species foraging flocks in winter. In these flocks the nuthatch appears to compete for food with the Pine Warbler, another pine specialist species. The two birds displace each other from the preferred foraging spots, with the nuthatch attacking the warbler just as frequently as the warbler attacks the nuthatch.

Habitat


Forest

Pine forests, especially in open, mature forests with periodic fires.

Food


Insects

Insects and pine seeds.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–9 eggs
Egg Description
White or buffy, with reddish brown spots evenly distributed over egg or concentrated as blotches at large end.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless and with some down.
Nest Description

Nests in holes in trees, usually dead trees. Will use nest box. Nest made primarily of pine seed wings, with bark shreds, Spanish moss, grass rootlets, fur, feathers, and other soft material.

Nest Placement

Cavity

Behavior


Bark Forager

Forages in pines, throughout the entire tree, but especially in upper third of trees. Gleans from foliage, probes in cracks and open pinecones, pries into crevices. Scales off loose bark, and may use flakes of bark as a tool to pry off bark. Takes seeds and other large food to hammering sites at the base of large limbs to peck seed open.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Decreasing throughout range because of habitat degradation. The population on Grand Bahama Island, which is possibly a distinct subspecies, is nearly gone, probably the result of logging. Listed on the Audubon Watchlist

Credits

  • Withgott, J. H., and K. G. Smith. 1998. Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla). In The Birds of North America, No. 349 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Brown-headed Nuthatch Range Map
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