Bird GuideNuthatchesBrown-headed Nuthatch

At a Glance

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.
Category
Nuthatches, Tree-clinging Birds
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Region
Florida, Mid Atlantic, Plains, Southeast, Texas
Behavior
Flitter, Undulating
Population
1.600.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Mostly a permanent resident, very rarely wanders north.

Description

4 1/4" (11 cm). Brown cap down to eye, pale below, gray back, white nape spot. Almost identical to Pygmy Nuthatch, best identified by range.
Size
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Color
Brown, Gray, Red, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Rounded
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A series of high-pitched piping notes, unlike the calls of other eastern nuthatches.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle

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.

Behavior

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.

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.

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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Brown-headed Nuthatch. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Brown-headed Nuthatch

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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