Bird GuideNuthatchesPygmy Nuthatch

At a Glance

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.
Nuthatches, Tree-clinging Birds
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains
California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flitter, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


3 3/4-4 1/2" (10-11 cm). Gray-brown cap down to eye, pale below, gray back, white spot on nape. In southeast, replaced by Brown-headed Nuthatch.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Brown, Gray, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A monotonous peep, peep-peep.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type


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.



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.


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

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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Still common, numbers apparently stable.

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 Pygmy Nuthatch. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Pygmy 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.