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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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Songs

  • Nasal yank-yank-yank song
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Red-breasted Nuthatches sing a fast series of nasal, hornlike notes that sound like yank-yank. Songs can have 6 or more of these notes each, and the songs themselves can be repeated up to 16 times per minute. It’s unmated males that sing this most frequently. Males and females sometimes sing a similar but slower and harsher version of this song when they are defending their territory.

Calls

  • Song
  • Agitated call
  • Two nuthatches calling
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The yank note can also be given as a call by both sexes (though more often by the male) as a way of communicating between the pair. This note can be sped up until it sounds like a vibrating trill, typically given from near the nest just at the end of nest excavation or beginning of egg-laying. During confrontations, chases or copulation, nuthatches may make a phew call, and agitated birds sometimes make a wrenlike scolding call.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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)