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Red-breasted Nuthatch


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.


  • 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.


  • 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

This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

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

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

You Might Also Like

Four Nuthatches, Four Ways to Make It Through a Cold Winter, All About Birds blog, February 27, 2015.

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

Power Struggles Are Playing Out at Your Feeder—Here’s What to Look For, All About Birds blog, March 11, 2015.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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