- 5.1–5.5 in
- 7.9–10.6 in
- 0.6–1.1 oz
- Larger than a Red-breasted Nuthatch; smaller than a Tufted Titmouse.
- Saltapalo blanco (Spanish)
- Sittelle à poitrine blanch (French)
- The White-breasted Nuthatch is normally territorial throughout the year, with pairs staying together. The male has to spend more time looking out for predators when he’s alone than while he’s with his mate. That’s the pattern for most birds, and one reason why birds spend so much time in flocks. But the female nuthatch has to put up with the male pushing her aside from foraging sites, so she spends more time looking around (for him) when he’s around than when she is alone.
- In winter, White-breasted Nuthatches join foraging flocks led by chickadees or titmice, perhaps partly because it makes food easier to find and partly because more birds can keep an eye out for predators. One study found that when titmice were removed from a flock, nuthatches were more wary and less willing to visit exposed bird feeders.
- If you see a White-breasted Nuthatch making lots of quick trips to and from your feeder – too many for it to be eating them all – it may be storing the seeds for later in the winter, by wedging them into furrows in the bark of nearby trees.
- The oldest known White-breasted Nuthatch was 9 years 10 months old.
White-breasted Nuthatches are birds of mature woods, and they’re more often found in deciduous than coniferous forests (where Red-breasted Nuthatches are more likely). You can also find them at woodland edges and in open areas with large trees, such as parks, wooded suburbs, and yards.
White-breasted Nuthatches eat mainly insects, including weevil larvae, wood-boring beetle larvae, other beetles, tree hoppers, scale insects, ants, gall fly larvae, caterpillars (including gypsy moths and tent caterpillars), stinkbugs, and click beetles, as well as spiders. They also eat seeds and nuts, including acorns, hawthorn, sunflower seeds, and sometimes crops such as corn. At birdfeeders they eat sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, and peanut butter.
- Clutch Size
- 5–9 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1 broods
- Egg Length
- 0.7–0.8 in
- Egg Width
- 0.6 in
- Incubation Period
- 13–14 days
- Nestling Period
- 26 days
- Egg Description
- Creamy white to pinkish-white, speckled with reddish brown, gray, or purple.
- Condition at Hatching
- Helpless and naked except for some down.
Females build the nest on their own, lining the nest cavity with fur, bark, and lumps of dirt. She then builds a nest cup of fine grass, shredded bark, feathers, and other soft material. White-breasted Nuthatches often reuse their nest holes in subsequent years.
White-breasted Nuthatches typically build their nests in natural tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes. They sometimes enlarge these holes but rarely excavate them entirely on their own (as Red-breasted Nuthatches often do). Nuthatches are smaller than woodpeckers, and White-breasted Nuthatches don’t seem bothered by nest holes considerably larger than they are. Despite their association with deciduous woods, they nest in both coniferous and deciduous trees. White-breasted Nuthatches sometimes use nest boxes.
White-breasted Nuthatches forage up, down, and sideways over tree trunks and around large branches. They often (though not always) start high in trees and move down them head first, pausing to crane their necks up and back, toward the horizontal, for a look around. They probe into bark crevices or chip away at wood to find food. When they find large nuts and seeds, they jam them into the bark and hammer them open. White-breasted Nuthatches often store seeds and insects one at a time, and somewhat haphazardly, under loose bark on their territory. They typically hide the food by covering it with a piece of bark, lichen, moss, or snow. White-breasted Nuthatches live in pairs year round and chase other nuthatches from their territory. Agitated birds fan their tails, flick their wings, or raise the feathers of the back. A bird backing down from a confrontation typically raises its bill and tail, and droops its wings. In winter White-breasted Nuthatches join groups of chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers to forage.
White-breasted Nuthatches are common and widespread, and their populations have been increasing since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9.2 million with 85 percent occurring in the U.S., 5 percent in Canada, and 10 percent in Mexico. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Like all birds that nest in holes in trees, White-breasted Nuthatches depend on having dead or partially dead trees left standing in their habitat. Too much pruning or felling of dead wood can reduce the nesting opportunities for this species.
- Grubb, Jr., T. C. and V. V. Pravosudov. 2008. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). In The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). The Birds of North America Online, Ithaca, New York.
- Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne’s essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
- Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A Knopf, New York.
- Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2011. Longevity Records of North American Birds.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2012. North American Breeding Bird Survey 1966–2010 analysis.