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A photo of a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), male
White-breasted Nuthatch, Male

White-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta carolinensis

The White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis, is a medium-sized bird, approximately 15.5 cm in length, with a robust build characterized by a large head, short tail, and powerful bill. Males exhibit a striking black crown and nape, while females may have a similar dark gray cap. The upperparts are a soft blue-gray, and the underparts are predominantly white with a hint of reddish on the lower abdomen.

Identification Tips

To identify the White-breasted Nuthatch, look for its light blue-gray upperparts and the black or dark gray cap on males and some females. The underparts are white, and the bird has a distinctive habit of descending tree trunks head-first. In flight, the outer tail feathers display black with broad diagonal white bands, a key feature for identification.


This species is commonly found in deciduous forests or mixed woodlands, often at low elevations. It prefers areas with mature or decaying trees that provide cavities for nesting.


The White-breasted Nuthatch is widely distributed across North America, from southern Canada to northern Florida and southern Mexico. It is a non-migratory bird, with adults typically remaining within their territory year-round.


The White-breasted Nuthatch is known for its agility, often seen foraging head-first down tree trunks. It is a social bird in winter, frequently joining mixed-species flocks led by titmice and chickadees.

Song & Calls

The male's mating song is a rapid nasal "qui-qui-qui," while the contact call is a thin "nit." The bird also produces a shrill "kri" when anxious or excited, with variations in calls among different subspecies.


Monogamous pairs form territories and remain together until one partner is lost. Nesting usually occurs in natural tree cavities or old woodpecker nests. The female incubates a clutch of 5 to 9 eggs, with both parents feeding the young.

Similar Species

The White-breasted Nuthatch can be distinguished from other North American nuthatches by its larger size and the white plumage surrounding its eye. Other species, such as the Red-breasted, Pygmy, and Brown-headed Nuthatches, are significantly smaller and have different plumage patterns.

Diet and Feeding

This bird is omnivorous, consuming a diet of insects in summer and seeds in winter. It is adept at caching surplus seeds and is known to visit feeders for nuts, suet, and sunflower seeds.

Conservation Status

The White-breasted Nuthatch is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, with an estimated population of 10 million individuals and evidence of an overall increase. However, habitat loss due to the removal of dead trees can pose local threats.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sounds

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