Photo: Susan Burroughs/Audubon Photography Awards

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
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 Will Reshape the Range of the Brown-headed Nuthatch

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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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