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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta canadensis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: SITTIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

An intense bundle of energy at your feeder, Red-breasted Nuthatches are tiny, active birds of north woods and western mountains. These long-billed, short-tailed songbirds travel through tree canopies with chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers but stick to tree trunks and branches, where they search bark furrows for hidden insects. Their excitable yank-yank calls sound like tiny tin horns being honked in the treetops.

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Keys to identification Help

Nuthatches
Nuthatches
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A small, compact bird with a sharp expression accentuated by its long, pointed bill. Red-breasted Nuthatches have very short tails and almost no neck; the body is plump or barrel-chested, and the short wings are very broad.

  • Color Pattern

    Red-breasted Nuthatches are blue-gray birds with strongly patterned heads: a black cap and stripe through the eye broken up by a white stripe over the eye. The underparts are rich rusty-cinnamon, paler in females.

  • Behavior

    Red-breasted Nuthatches move quickly over trunks and branches probing for food in crevices and under flakes of bark. They creep up, down, and sideways without regard for which way is up, and they don’t lean against their tail the way woodpeckers do. Flight is short and bouncy.

  • Habitat

    Red-breasted Nuthatches are mainly birds of coniferous woods and mountains. Look for them among spruce, fir, pine, hemlock, larch, and western red cedar as well as around aspens and poplars. In northeastern North America you can also find them in forests of oak, hickory, maple, birch, and other deciduous trees.

Range Map Help

Red-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult
    • Black and white striped head
    • Bluish gray back and wings
    • Reddish underparts (brighter in males, paler in females)
    • Short, stubby tail
    • © Larry Meade, Chincoteague, Virginia, February 2008
  • Adult

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult
    • Dark grayish cap and eyestripe (black in males)
    • Pale reddish underparts (darker in males)
    • Bluish gray back and wings
    • White face and throat
    • © Debbie McKenzie, September 2008
  • Adult

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult
    • Bright orange-red underparts (paler in females)
    • Black cap and eyestripe (grayer in females)
    • Long, sharp, slightly upturned black bill
    • © Matt MacGillivray, Brighton, Ontario, April 2008
  • Adult

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult
    • Small and stubby shape
    • Black and white striped head
    • © Ronaldok, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, May 2008
  • Juvenile

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Juvenile
  • Adult male

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
    • Often seen on feeders and tree trunks; may feed upside-down or right-side up
    • © Mick Zerr
  • Adult

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult
    • Bluish gray back and wings
    • Black and white striped head
    • Reddish underparts (brighter in males, paler in females)
    • © Scott Evans
  • Adult male

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
    • Bright orange-red underparts
    • Black cap and eyestripe
    • Bluish gray back and wings
    • Sharp, slightly upturned bill
    • © Lyn Winans
  • Adult male and female

    Red-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male and female
    • Male with black cap, female with gray cap
    • Male with brighter red underparts, brighter blue back
    • © Dave Eddy

Similar Species

Similar Species

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is the only North American nuthatch with an eyestripe, and the only one with extensive rusty or cinnamon on the underparts. It is smaller and stubbier than the White-breasted Nuthatch. Pygmy Nuthatches of the West and Brown-headed Nuthatches of the Southeast are smaller, with brown head. Brown Creepers have much longer tails and are much browner and much less agile than nuthatches. The Black-and-white Warbler forages along main trunks and branches, but is heavily streaked all over, without the solid gray back or rusty underparts of a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Backyard Tips

Feeders are a great way to attract Red-breasted Nuthatches to your yard. They particularly like large seeds like sunflower and peanuts, as well as suet and peanut butter. Planting coniferous trees in your yard may provide shelter and foraging opportunities for Red-breasted Nuthatches in coming years.

Find This Bird

You can find Red-breasted Nuthatches by listening for their nasal, yammering call or for the sounds of a foraging flock of chickadees and other birds: nuthatches are often in attendance. Look along trunks and branches of trees for a bird wandering up, down, and sideways over the bark, and keep your eyes peeled for the Red-breasted Nuthatch’s bold black-and-white face pattern.

Get Involved

Keep track of the Red-breasted Nuthatches at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Migratory patterns of Red-breasted Nuthatches and other birds revealed by eBird

Check out our resources on attracting cavity-nesting birds and setting up a nest box for small songbirds such as nuthatches. Then report any nesting activity to NestWatch

Help track the large-scale movements of Red-breasted Nuthatches by reporting your sightings to eBird

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Red-breasted Nuthatch from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1948)