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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

White-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta carolinensis ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: SITTIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A common feeder bird with clean black, gray, and white markings, White-breasted Nuthatches are active, agile little birds with an appetite for insects and large, meaty seeds. They get their common name from their habit of jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then whacking them with their sharp bill to “hatch” out the seed from the inside. White-breasted Nuthatches may be small but their voices are loud, and often their insistent nasal yammering will lead you right to them.

Jane Kim Mural
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Keys to identification Help

Nuthatches
Nuthatches
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The largest nuthatch, this is still a small bird with a large head and almost no neck. The tail is very short, and the long, narrow bill is straight or slightly upturned.

  • Color Pattern

    White-breasted Nuthatches are gray-blue on the back, with a frosty white face and underparts. The black or gray cap and neck frame the face and make it look like this bird is wearing a hood. The lower belly and under the tail are often chestnut.

  • Behavior

    White-breasted Nuthatches are agile birds that creep along trunks and large branches, probing into bark furrows with their straight, pointed bills. Like other nuthatches, they often turn sideways and upside down on vertical surfaces as they forage. They don’t lean against their tails the way woodpeckers do.

  • Habitat

    White-breasted Nuthatches are birds of mature woods and woodland edges. They’re particularly associated with deciduous stands, including maple, hickory, basswood, and oak, though they can be found in some coniferous forests.

Range Map Help

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

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult female

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult female
    • Frosted black cap
    • White face and underparts
    • Bluish-gray back and wings
    • Chestnut patterned flanks and undertail
    • © Matt MacGillivray, Brighton, Ontario, Canada, April 2008
  • Adult female

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult female
    • White face, breast, and belly
    • Long, upturned black and gray bill
    • Frosted black cap
    • © Matt MacGillivray, Brighton, Ontario, Canada, April 2008
  • Adult female

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult female
    • Bluish-gray back and wings
    • Long, upturned black and gray bill
    • Black eye obvious in white face
    • © Ed Schneider, White Creek, Tennessee, December 2008
  • Adult female

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult female
    • Hangs upside down or sideways on tree trunks
    • © Matt MacGillivray, Brighton, Ontario, Canada, April 2008
  • Adult female

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult female
    • Short, black and white banded tail
    • Black and white patches in wings visible from underside only
    • Chestnut patterned flanks and undertail
    • © bmaltzan, Ithaca, New York, August 2007
  • Adult male

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
    • Solid black cap
    • White face and underparts
    • Bluish gray back and wings
    • © soderlis, Minnesota, January 2009
  • Adult male

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
    • Solid black cap
    • Short tail
    • Black eye obvious in white face
    • © Gary Hostetter, September 2008
  • Adult male

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
  • Adult male

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male
    • Stocky with large head
    • Sharp, slightly upturned bill
    • Black eye and white face, framed by black cap and hood
    • © Jerry Acton/GBBC
  • Adult male and female

    White-breasted Nuthatch

    Adult male and female
    • Common at feeders
    • © Sara Grimm, January 2009

Similar Species

Similar Species

White-breasted Nuthatches are the largest North American nuthatch, and the only one with clear white on the face all the way around the eye. Brown Creepers move along tree trunks like nuthatches, but they're brown instead of gray, with a much longer tail. White-breasted Nuthatches have shorter tails and longer, more pointed bills than chickadees or titmice.

Backyard Tips

White-breasted Nuthatches are common feeder birds. You can attract them by offering large nuts such as sunflower and peanuts, and by putting out suet.

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

Look for White-breasted Nuthatches along the main branches of large deciduous trees. They’ll likely be moving quickly at odd angles to the vertical. In winter you can find them in small flocks of chickadees and titmice; if you see one in a flock keep your eyes out, as there’s a good chance the bird’s mate is in the flock as well.

Get Involved

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

Free downloadable "Common Feeder Birds" poster from Project FeederWatch (PDF)

Check out our resources on attracting cavity-nesting birds and setting up a nest box. Then report any nesting activity to NestWatch

You Might Also Like

Risk Management for Chickadees, Living Bird, Autumn 2013

Explore sounds and video of White-breasted Nuthatches from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

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