White-breasted Nuthatch Life History

Habitat

Habitat ForestsWhite-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.Back to top

Food

Food InsectsWhite-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.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest CavityWhite-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.

Nest Description

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.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:5-9 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.8-2 cm)
Egg Width:0.6 in (1.5 cm)
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.
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Behavior

Behavior Bark ForagerWhite-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.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernWhite-breasted Nuthatch is common and widespread, and populations increased between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 9.2 million with 85% occurring in the U.S., 5% in Canada, and 10% in Mexico. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds 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. Back to top

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. 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 All About Birdhouses. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size for White-breasted Nuthatch.

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Credits

Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Grubb Jr., T. C. and V. V. Pravosudov. 2008. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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