Nuthatches are Beautiful Birds

Nuthatches bring glamour to a bird feeder with their little band uniforms. These birds have a glossy, black, crown stripe and nape and a blue-gray jacket. Their white belly, neck and face with black and white lines of trim make this bird a delight to spy. They are stocky with short tails, strong, sharp bills and black eyes.

Head-Down Tree Creepers
Nuthatches move both head-first and head-up when they travel up and down tree trunks foraging along crevices in the bark. This tree creeping is so distinctive that the bird family can be identified by this feature alone. He is noted for his stowing of acorns and nuts in crevices in the tree bark and the habit of scurrying up and down the tree trunk usually head-down.

The nuthatch is an active bird, with a long, sharp dagger-like bill. He is a cavity building bird who nests high in trees and therefore competes with squirrels and woodpeckers for space. Often in the company of chickadees and titmice, he is a winter visitor to wooded areas and will come to a feeder or nest in a birdhouse.

There are three types of nuthatches: white-breasted, brown-headed and red-breasted.

White-breasted Nuthatch
The white-breasted nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis, is about six inches long. He can be found all over Canada, the United States and Mexico. He nests in natural tree cavities at about 15 to 50 feet from the ground. The female lines the nest with bark shreds, grass, rootlets, fur and hair. She lays five to ten short, non-glossy oval white eggs, marked with light brown or lavender spots on the larger end. The eggs are incubated for 12 days and the pair mates for a full nesting season (sometimes permanently). White-breasted nuthatches do not migrate, but stay for the winter where they nest.

Besides tree creeping, another odd behavior of the nuthatch is bill sweeping. Both birds engage in several minutes of sweeping the bill in a wide arc inside or outside the nesting cavity while holding an insect in its bill. Some ornithologists think that this is a territorial display rather than a courtship display, even though it is only seen during the breeding season.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: A Winter Visitor
This variety sports a light, rusty, red chest and belly and a white eyebrow line. It is smaller, averaging 4 ½ half inches. It ranges over most of North America, but prefers regions of conifers in the north and west.

The Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta Canadensis, is considered an irruptive migrant, or one whose winter numbers vary greatly from year to year.

The nuthatch will nest in an abandoned woodpecker cavity, but rarely a birdhouse. It is known to modify the cavity entrance by dabbing it with globules of pitch to discourage invasion by other birds, insects or mammals. To avoid this sticky pitch, the female flies straight into the entrance. She lays four to seven smooth, oval, white eggs sparingly dotted with reddish-brown. She will take 12 days to incubate the eggs and only sets one brood a year.

Brown-Headed Nuthatch
Sitta pusilla, the Brown-Headed Nuthatch, is native to the Gulf Coast, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and along the east coast to Maryland and Delaware. This bird loves the piney woods. The female will build the nest as close as two feet from the ground in an old stump or fencepost, or as high as 50 feet in a woodpecker hole. She lines the cavity with pine seed husks, inner bark strips, wood chips, grasses, cotton and feathers. This bird also modifies her cavity by caulking any crevices, cracks or holes with strips of cottony plant down.

Brown-Headed Nuthatches lay three to nine smooth, non-glossy, oval eggs  which are profusely marked with evenly distributed fine, red-brown dots, spots and blotches. The eggs are incubated by the female for 14 days and there is only one brood per year.

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