The Red-breasted Nuthatches Are Still Here!

by Larry Jordan on October 9, 2012

Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) Male photos by Larry Jordan

The Red-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis) that came to my home about a month ago are still here! The male shown above (click on photos for full sized images) is distinguished from the female shown below by his black forehead, crown and nape.

The top of the female’s head is a more bluish-gray rather than black and her underparts are paler than the male’s.

This appears to be a female showing that nuthatches can not only walk up or down tree trunks probing crevices in the bark for insects, they can also traverse the underside of branches if they are so inclined.

You can see on this range map, courtesy of Terry Sohl of South Dakota Birds and Birding, that the Red-breasted Nuthatch has a fairly large North American distribution as a permanent resident.

If you recall, I mentioned in my Labor Day weekend post that this was a new bird added to my mythical yard list, but I assumed they were just passing through. Little did I know that the Red-breasted Nuthatch was unique among the North American nuthatches as the only species to undergo regular irruptive movements that appear to be primarily driven by a shortage of winter food on their breeding grounds.

During irruption years, large numbers of individuals often invade uncharacteristic habitats as far south as the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the desert washes of northern Mexico. With its propensity for long-distance movements, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is the only North American nuthatch to have crossed the Atlantic to Europe as a vagrant1.

They are definitely spunky little nuthatches! They showed no fear of me and my camera as visited the feeders and the pond.

They feed mainly on arthropods during breeding season but conifer seeds the rest of the year which they also cache for a winter food supply.

They also breed in mix coniferous forest so my hope is that these visitors might make this a permanent home as the White-breasted Nuthatches have, although the Red-breasted Nuthatch rarely uses nest boxes.

I leave you with a shot of the the male visiting the waterfall and a short video as well.

For more great bird photos check out The Bird D’pot and Wild Bird Wednesday!

References: 1Birds of North America Online

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Connie Smiley October 9, 2012 at 9:16 am

Such wonderful photos, and that’s very interesting about their migration. Looks like those little birds are loving your waterfall.


Modesto Viegas (Portugal) October 9, 2012 at 9:24 am

Great photos!
Great post!!!


TexWisGirl October 9, 2012 at 9:41 am

they are so cute! i wish we had more nuthatches here. quite rare to spot.


Eileen October 9, 2012 at 9:49 am

Great post on the RB Nuthatches, Larry! They are one of my favorite winter birds. Great photos.


Findlay Wilde October 9, 2012 at 9:50 am

I really enjoyed this post with the video. Going to tell dad we need a waterfall. From Findlay


Liz October 9, 2012 at 9:53 am

Gorgeous shots, Larry!! I love that eye mask.


Sallie (FullTime-Life) October 9, 2012 at 10:10 am

This nuthatch was a new bird for me this summer (we saw it in Central Oregon)…your pictures are better of course! Love the upside down one.


Adam Jones October 9, 2012 at 10:53 am

They really are superb little birds. Lovely shots.


Mick October 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

Beautiful patterns on both birds and I especially like the photo of the one walking upside down.


Mia McPherson October 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

These images are wonderful Larry, I hope they stick around for you!


Pat October 9, 2012 at 11:51 am

Great captures! Our resident White-breasted Nuthatches are so much fun to watch.


Boom & Gary October 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm

They are beauties!! Great essay. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.


Gail October 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Beautiful shots! I see they should be year-round residents here in Louisiana, but I’ve never seen one. Guess I should read where they like to live (dense forests, etc). Thanks for sharing the images and information!


Larry October 10, 2012 at 7:29 am

@Gail they would be a non-breeding resident in Louisiana so they would only be there November through February. According Birds of North America Online “Southward movements have been attributed to lack of winter food on breeding grounds. However, numbers of birds that remain resident or move south vary considerably from year to year, making it difficult to predict the number of birds that will remain resident or winter in any given location.” They prefer forests that have a strong fir and spruce component.


EG CameraGirl , Canada October 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I love red-breasted nuthatches. We have one that comes to our peanut feeder many times a day and now is almost a pet, 😉


ken schneider October 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Enjoyed your photos, videos and commentary. The map shows that the nuthatches may visit south Florida, but so far I have never seen one in our neighborhood.


Larry October 10, 2012 at 7:32 am

@Ken it would probably be a rare visitor to South Florida in the winter. See the comment I left above for Gail.


Stewart M October 10, 2012 at 4:35 am

Hi there – what a great (semi- permanent) addition to your yard list (we al secretly keep one!)

Thanks for linking to WBW

Stewart M – Australia


Dian Miller October 10, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Yes, great photos and seems to be on everyone’s favorite winter bird list. They are so active and purposeful.


Jean October 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Larry, I will trade you a Brown-headed Nuthatch for a Red-breasted.:)
Good post!


Mary Howell Cromer October 10, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Darling little chap. I so enjoyed seeing them on our recent journey west~


Kim October 11, 2012 at 3:00 am

Love these little birds and they are EVERYWHERE here in New England this year so glad to see your’e getting them in your neck of the woods too!


Neil October 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Great photos hope they stay around your garden.


Ingrid October 18, 2012 at 1:52 am

I just, a few weeks ago, identified their call. I had no idea that all of these years, I’d been hearing that haunting little voice from a nuthatch. Lovely birds, they are.


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