Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Pygmy Nuthatch

Sitta pygmaea

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.
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.
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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.


Eggs

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.


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.

Diet

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

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

Migration

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

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Migration

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
Songs and Calls
A monotonous peep, peep-peep.
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

Pygmy 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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