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Brown-headed Nuthatch


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

When the squeaky sound of a rubber ducky drifts down out of the canopy in a southern pine forest, be on the lookout for Brown-headed Nuthatches. These tiny blue-gray songbirds climb up, down, and around pine trunks and branches with the deftness of a rock climber. They cling to bark with their strong feet rather than leaning on their tails like a woodpecker. Brown-headed Nuthatches are social birds that travel in noisy family groups. Sometimes, offspring from previous years help their parents raise young.


Brown-headed Nuthatches don't sing complicated songs, but they are plenty vocal. They make tiny squeaks that sound like a toy rubber ducky being squeezed. These wheezy 2-syllable notes emanate from the treetops year-round. They repeat each squeak 1–12 times. Although not loud by themselves, other members of the group usually join in to amplify the sound.


  • song, scold
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In addition to the commonly heard rubber-ducky vocalization, Brown-headed Nuthatches also make a rapid series of high-pitched, jumbled notes, sometimes combined with the rubber-ducky vocalization. During foraging bouts, individuals also make soft single-noted calls—useful for finding groups of nuthatches.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

If you live in Southeastern pine forests, putting up a suet feeder may draw Brown-headed Nuthatches to your yard. Learn more about feeders and food types for the Brown-headed Nuthatch at Project FeederWatch.

Brown-headed Nuthatches nest in holes in standing dead trees, but they may nest in your yard if you put up a nest box for them. Head on over to NestWatch to download construction plans to build your very own Brown-headed Nuthatch nest box.

Find This Bird

Finding a Brown-headed Nuthatch means heading to the right place—a mature pine forest in the Southeast with an open understory. Soon after your arrival you’ll likely hear the sound of rubber duckies coming from the trees. This is the key to finding them. After that, it’s all about neck craning, as they tend to be high in the canopy. Watch for tiny birds zigzagging up and down tree trunks and branches picking at the bark—typically in groups, which can make them easier to find. If you can't find one foraging among the clumps of pine needles, you'll likely be able to spot them as they fly between trees with one bird trailing behind the other.

Get Involved

If you have bird feeders in your yard, join us at Project FeederWatch and tell us what birds you see at your feeders during winter.

You Might Also Like

eBird Occurrence Maps, Brown-headed Nuthatch

Like Chasing Tornadoes: The Fun And Challenge Of Mixed Species Flocks, Living Bird, Autumn 2014.

Cooperative Breeding? In My Backyard?, Project FeederWatch, January 15, 2015.

Four Nuthatches, Four Ways To Make It Through A Cold Winter, All About Birds, February 27, 2015.

Look out! The Backyard Bird Alarm Call Network, Living Bird, Winter 2016.

Where Is That Bird Going With That Seed? It’s Caching Food For Later, All About Birds, April 13, 2016.

Bird-friendly Winter Gardens, Birdsleuth, 2016.



Or Browse Bird Guide by Family, Name or Shape
bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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