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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Breasted Nuthatches

Red-Breasted Nuthatch by Pam Huntley, as heard on

Nuthatches are distinguished by their nasal call and they are the only ones that move down the trunks of the trees instead of up.

Here on the coast, the Pygmy Nuthatch is most common, while inland the Whitebreasted prevails. The Red-breasted Nuthatch is somewhat irregular in coniferous woods. This 4-˝ inch bird is rusty colored underneath, has a blue-gray back with a black cap, white eyebrow and a black line that runs through the eye. The female looks the same but the cap is more bluish-black.

Nuthatches feed by going head first down trunks of trees and probing under bark with their small slightly upturned beaks. They are adapted to do this with their short legs and long strong toes with claws. They feed on insects and their larva. In winter they are fond of pine and spruce seeds. They will also visit bird feeders for seeds and suet. If a seed is too large, they will wedge it in the cracks of bark and then break off pieces to eat. They will take seeds from a person’s hand and have even taken sunflower seeds from the lips of a friendly birder.

Red-breasted Nuthatches nest in holes in decaying trees, which they usually carve themselves. They will sometimes use an old woodpecker’s hole. The cavity is lined with grass and fir. The female lays 4-6 white eggs peppered with reddish-brown. The eggs are incubated for 12 days. Red-breasted Nuthatches have the unique behavior of intricately smearing sap all over the entrance of their nest. David Fix calls it their sticky doormat. It is thought that this inhibits other animals and insects from entering, as the insects could bring parasites and disease to nestlings.

First published January 2010 MCAS Black Oystercatcher
Red-breasted Nuthatch photo Ron LeValley