Featured Birds: White-breasted Nuthatches

White-breasted Nuthatch perched on tree trunk

White-breasted Nuthatches are popular backyard visitors. These handsome, topsy-turvy birds move headfirst down vertical tree trunks and suet feeders, which gives them a good look at crevices from above, so they may spot insects and other food items that other birds miss. The tiny stub of a tail makes this unusual posture easier for them.

White-breasted Nuthatches live in forests with leafy, deciduous hardwood trees throughout most of North America. They feed on insects and a variety of nuts, and visit our feeders for suet, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and peanut butter. If you offer peanut butter, in summer mix it with gritty cornmeal or simply use inexpensive, well-mixed varieties rather than more natural peanut butter—then the oils won’t separate out making the peanut butter gooey. If it does get soft and mushy during hot spells, take it in until the weather is cooler.

White-breasted Nuthatch hanging off the side of a tree

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatches nest in tree cavities—usually old woodpecker holes or natural cavities that developed as the base of a fallen limb rotted away, and sometimes use nest boxes. They tend to be rather quiet while their chicks are still inside the cavity, but once the babies fledge, can sometimes be spotted in little family groups. You can identify the adult male by his very black cap that matches the black marking on the nape of his neck. Adult females and young birds have a lighter gray cap that is easy to tell from that black nape mark.

All White-breasted Nuthatches make a noisy “yank yank” call and some chattering calls. In late winter and early spring, males often sing their song—a loud, nasal wha-wha-wha.

Vertically perched White-breasted Nuthatch

Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatch

Depending on where you live in North America, a second, smaller, darker-colored nuthatch may sometimes appear at your feeder. Brown-headed Nuthatches live in the southeast; Pygmy Nuthatches live in Western pine forests; and Red-breasted Nuthatches breed in Canada and the northern and mountain states and may winter just about anywhere north of the Mexican border.

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