Photo: Norm Dougan/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta canadensis

With its quiet calls and dense coniferous forest habitat, this nuthatch may be overlooked until it wanders down a tree toward the ground. It often shows little fear of humans, and may come very close to a person standing quietly in a conifer grove. Red-breasted Nuthatches nest farther north and higher in the mountains than their relatives; when winter food crops fail in these boreal forests, they may migrate hundreds of miles to the south.
Conservation status Numbers probably stable. Has expanded breeding range southward in some eastern states by nesting in plantings of ornamental conifers.
Family Nuthatches
Habitat Conifer forests; in winter, also other trees. Nesting habitat almost always has many conifers, such as spruce, fir, hemlock, either in pure stands or mixed with deciduous trees. Mature forest preferred, perhaps because old decaying wood needed for nest sites. In migration and winter may appear in any wooded habitat, but conifers always chosen if available.
With its quiet calls and dense coniferous forest habitat, this nuthatch may be overlooked until it wanders down a tree toward the ground. It often shows little fear of humans, and may come very close to a person standing quietly in a conifer grove. Red-breasted Nuthatches nest farther north and higher in the mountains than their relatives; when winter food crops fail in these boreal forests, they may migrate hundreds of miles to the south.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by climbing up and down trunk and branches of trees. Sometimes catches flying insects in the air. May cache food items in bark crevices.


Eggs

5-6, sometimes 4-7. White, spotted with reddish-brown. Female incubates, male brings food to female on and off nest. Incubation period about 12 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings; young leave nest about 2-3 weeks after hatching. Probably 1 brood per year.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings; young leave nest about 2-3 weeks after hatching. Probably 1 brood per year.

Diet

Includes both insects and seeds. Feeds mainly on insects and spiders in summer; in winter, eats many seeds, especially those of conifers. Young are fed mostly or entirely on insects and spiders.


Nesting

Unlike other nuthatches, has a soft musical song, used especially in courtship by male. In courtship display, male turns his back toward female, raises head, droops wings, and sways from side to side. Male also feeds female in courtship. Nest: Both sexes excavate nest cavity in rotten stub or snag, usually 5-40' above ground, rarely much higher. Rarely use old woodpecker holes or birdhouses. Sticky pitch is smeared around entrance to nest hole; this may prevent other creatures from entering. Adults avoid getting stuck in pitch by flying straight into hole. Apparently female does most of work of nest building. Nest in cavity made of soft grass, moss, bark fibers, feathers.

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

Migration

Winter range varies tremendously from year to year, especially in east. Big southward invasions occur in fall of some years, perhaps mainly when cone crops are very poor in the northern forest. In years with good food supply, may remain all winter on nesting territory.

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Migration

Winter range varies tremendously from year to year, especially in east. Big southward invasions occur in fall of some years, perhaps mainly when cone crops are very poor in the northern forest. In years with good food supply, may remain all winter on nesting territory.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A tinny yank-yank, higher pitched and more nasal than the call of the White-breasted Nuthatch.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Red-breasted 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 Red-breasted 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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