Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla

A small nuthatch of the southeastern pine forests. Found in pairs or family groups all year, it is often heard before it is seen; the birds call to each other constantly as they busily clamber about on the branches. In winter, small groups of Brown-headed Nuthatches often join mixed foraging flocks including chickadees, woodpeckers, and Pine Warblers.
Conservation status Probably the least numerous nuthatch in North America. Has lost ground in some areas because of habitat loss, but still common where southern pine forest exists.
Family Nuthatches
Habitat Open pine woods. Pine species (such as loblolly, longleaf, slash, and pond pines) virtually always present in habitat; also other conifers including bald cypress and Atlantic white cedar. Often in pine woods mixed with deciduous trees such as sweetgum, oak, hickory, or sycamore.
A small nuthatch of the southeastern pine forests. Found in pairs or family groups all year, it is often heard before it is seen; the birds call to each other constantly as they busily clamber about on the branches. In winter, small groups of Brown-headed Nuthatches often join mixed foraging flocks including chickadees, woodpeckers, and Pine Warblers.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly on trunk and large limbs of pines, also on higher branches and twigs. Males may forage lower than females, descending on trunks almost to ground. May use a chip of bark as a tool to pry off other pieces of bark while searching for insects. Sometimes catches flying insects in the air. May store seeds in bark crevices.


Eggs

Usually 4-6, sometimes 3-7. White, marked with reddish-brown. Typically lays 4 or 5 eggs in Florida, 5 or 6 elsewhere. Female incubates, about 14 days. Male brings food to female during incubation; male roosts in nest with female and eggs at night. Young: Both parents feed young (and so does additional "helper" at some nests). Young leave nest in 18-19 days. Usually 1 brood per year, rarely 2.


Young

Both parents feed young (and so does additional "helper" at some nests). Young leave nest in 18-19 days. Usually 1 brood per year, rarely 2.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Eats more insects and spiders in summer, more seeds (mainly pine seeds) in winter.


Nesting

Some nests aided by "helper," an additional male that brings food to female on nest, also to young after eggs hatch. Nest: Both sexes help excavate nest cavity in dead tree, usually in pine, sometimes in deciduous tree or fence post near pine forest. Pair may begin several excavations before completing one for nest. Will also use birdhouses, old woodpecker holes; sometimes competes for nest sites with Eastern Bluebird. Nest sites average about 5' above ground, rarely more than 15' high. Nest in cavity made of grass, bark fibers, hair, feathers, also "wings" of pine seeds.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Mostly a permanent resident, very rarely wanders north.

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Migration

Mostly a permanent resident, very rarely wanders north.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A series of high-pitched piping notes, unlike the calls of other eastern nuthatches.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Nuthatches Tree-clinging Birds

Brown-headed Nuthatch

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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