White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

The White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) lives in the woodlands across much of North America. It is a small, stocky songbird which measures 5″“6 inches long. Its wingspan is 8-11 inches in width, and it has a powerful bill and strong feet but only weighs in at 0.64″“1.06 ounces. The approximate lifespan of this particular nuthatch is two years, but it has been recorded to live as long as twelve years and nine months. Currently there are approximately 10 million individual birds which would seem to be evidence of a population increase.

Like the male White-breasted Nuthatch, the crown of the female’s large head is also black, making it as easily spotted as a male. There are about 10% of these black-capped females in the northeastern United States but the percentages rise in Mexico, the Rocky Mountains and the southeastern U.S. where these females have a 40-80% chance of having a black crown on their head. If the female’s crown is not black, it is typically gray, as are its flight feathers and wing coverts. The face of the White-breasted Nuthatch is white, as well as its underside.

The White-breasted Nuthatch is a forager just like other nuthatches, but these birds live mainly in trees that shed their leaves in fall. Most times the trees already have holes in them some 10″“40 ft. high that can be ready for nesting easily just by adding some grass, shredded bark and fur. This bird will go head-first looking inside trees or around the trunks and on branches searching for ants, caterpillars, oystershell, pine weevils and jumping plant lice. They will also hang upside-down on branches.

In urban areas, birdfeeders are an additional source of food. Insects are the choice food for warmer months, but the seeds from certain trees, like beech, hickory, and oak provide their main source of food during the cold months. Nuts and acorns will be put away for the winter and then hammered open with the bird’s strong beak. Only during this cold time of the year do the birds actually live in the same nest; other times they live alone.

Insects may be smeared around the opening of the nest to keep away predators and squirrels, which also use the open holes in trees for their use. This method seems to make it more difficult for the owls and Cooper’s Hawks to use their smell in locating the birds and for small squirrels, climbing snakes and woodpeckers to eat the young.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is monogamous. It usually stays in its selected area all year long. Pairs come together when the male bows to the female and while swinging back and forth he lowers his wings and spreads his tail. He may also feed her as a form of courtship. They will remain together until death or one disappears.

Declines of this species have been seen in Florida, Washington and some in parts of the southeastern U.S. over to Texas. The most likely cause is due to a number of dead trees, along with their nesting holes, being removed from the forests. Just the opposite is happening in parts of Canada, where the forests are growing again. These birds are making homes there.

Image Caption: White-breasted Nuthatch hanging from the underside of a branch in Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada. Credit: Mdf/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)