Conservation status Still common, numbers apparently stable.
Family Nuthatches
Habitat Yellow pines, other pines, Douglas fir. Yellow pine (the commercial name for ponderosa and Jeffrey pines) is main habitat element throughout mountains of west; also occurs in Monterey pine on California coast. In some places extends into pinyon-juniper woodland and redwood canyons. On rare visits to lowlands, likely to be in planted conifers.
An acrobatic little bird of western pine forests, most likely to be seen in small, talkative flocks, clambering over the highest twigs, cones, and needle clusters of the tall pines. Sociable at all seasons, Pygmy Nuthatches spend the winter foraging in flocks of five to 15 birds, all roosting together at night in one cavity. Even when nesting, a pair may have as many as three additional 'helpers' bringing food to the young.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly on outermost and highest branches of pines, including cones and needle clusters; also on main branches and trunks. Sometimes sallies out to catch flying insects in the air. Often stores seeds in holes or crevices in bark.


Usually 6-8, rarely 4-9. White, lightly dotted with reddish-brown. Female incubates (15-16 days), is fed on nest by male and sometimes by additional helpers. Young: Are fed by both parents and often by helpers. Young leave the nest at about 20-22 days. 1 brood per year, occasionally 2.


Are fed by both parents and often by helpers. Young leave the nest at about 20-22 days. 1 brood per year, occasionally 2.


Mostly insects and seeds. Diet in summer is primarily insects, especially beetles, wasps, caterpillars, and true bugs, also many others. In winter, also eats many seeds, especially pine seeds. Nestlings are fed mostly insects.


Nesting pairs often joined by 1-3 additional birds, usually their previous offspring, which help to defend the territory and raise the young; these helpers may roost in nest hole with the pair before the eggs hatch. Pairs with helpers tend to fledge more young than pairs without. Nest: Both sexes help excavate nest cavity in dead limb or snag, 8-60' above ground, usually higher than 20'. May tolerate some hole-nesting birds quite nearby (bluebirds, swallows) but not chickadees or other nuthatches. Nest in cavity is made of bark fibers, plant down, feathers. Pair usually roosts at night in nest cavity prior to egg-laying.

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

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Mostly a permanent resident. In years with poor cone crops, mountain birds sometimes wander to lowlands, and very rarely move far out onto plains.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

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Songs and Calls

A monotonous peep, peep-peep.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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