Bird Family of the week: 10 facts about Nuthatches 

Nuthatches, those cute little birds that can run up and down tree trunks, are the subject of this week’s Bird Family feature. Last Saturday, the Cardinal family started off our weekly look at a bird family on the PQSPB species checklist. Hard to believe it’s day 12 already! That means so far we’ve covered 120 facts about birds. That’ll be 1000 facts by the end of this 100 day Blogging spree! If you missed the beginning, here’s a link to the first post: 10 Outrageous Facts in Bird Conservation History

Day 12 of 100 Days of Blogging

Bird Family of the Week #2: The Nuthatches

Order: Passeriformes (perching birds)      Family: Sittidae 

#1. Who’s Who
The Sittidae Family includes 24 species worldwide of which only 4 are found in North America. Two of these are on the PQSPB checklist, the Red-breasted and the White-breasted Nuthatch. Both are year-round (Permanent) residents. The family name Sittidae is said to be derived from Greek and was used by Aristotle to describe birds that peck at the bark of trees.


Red-breasted Nuthatch  (Photo:Connie Morgenstern)

#2. Hey, look what I can do!
Nuthatches are easily recognized by their behaviour of running up and down trees. Unlike Woodpeckers and Creepers, nuthatches do not use their tails for support against tree trunks while foraging, so they are able to go both up and down trees head first. This might also give them an advantage in finding food hidden in tree crevices missed by the birds that only go in the up direction.  

#3. Up and down trees? Big deal! Look at me!
The Brown-headed Nuthatch (found in the Southeastern US) is one of the few birds known to use tools. This species has been observed using their bills to hold a piece of bark and then use it to flake off another piece of bark.


Red-breasted Nuthatch (Photo:Connie Morgenstern)

#4. The bird formerly known as ….
The Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis – fr: Sittelle à poitrine rousse ) was known by the common names Canada Nuthatch and Red-bellied Nuthatch in the past. The reference to Canada is still reflected in its Latin name. Males and females are similar in appearance. However, the top of the head of the female red-breasted is a dark gray-blue, not black; the eye-stripe is less wide or black than the males. 


White-breasted Nuthatch (Photo:Connie Morgenstern)

#5. Who said I’m dull? 
The male and female White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis – fr: Sittelle à poitrine blanche) are also similar in appearance but the female has a grayer crown than the male and is duller overall.


Red-breasted Nuthatch (Photo:Connie Morgenstern)

#6. Do nuthatches eat nuts?
Ok, so no surprise here, nuthatches eat nuts as well as seeds and invertebrates. During fall and winter they distribute food at  various cache sites for later retrieval.

#7. What’s with all that noise?
To open a seed, the nuthatch wedges it into a crevice and hits it repeatedly with its bill. This is referred to as hacking and the behaviour is likely how it got its common name


White-breasted Nuthatch with peanut (Photo:Connie Morgenstern)

#8. Honey, where did I put the car keys? Remember this the next time you have to look for something…
White-breasted nuthatches maintain a year-round pair bond and, during fall and winter, the pair hoards food by hiding it in caches throughout its permanent territory. That doesn’t sound too complicated, except that they use a different cache location for each item! 

#9. We’re outta here!
Nuthatches are generally non-migratory but, unlike other North American nuthatches, the Red-breasted regularly makes irruptive movements that appear to occur when there is shortage of winter food on the breeding grounds.

#10. Do we rent or build and flip?
The White-breasted Nuthatch generally nests in natural cavities or old woodpecker holes. The Red-headed Nuthatch, on the other hand, actually excavates is own nest cavities.