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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Common Name: Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Scientific Name: Sitta Canadensis.

What to look for?  Look along trunks and branches of trees for a stout, continually active bird wandering up, down, and sideways. Red-breasted Nuthatches are small, barrel-chested, compact birds. They have a large head and almost no neck. They are sharply marked with black crowns on their heads with white eyebrow, black eyeline and white cheeks. They have pale, rust-brown undersides that give them their names. Their back is bluish-gray. And their wings and tails are a mixture of white, black, and bluish-gray.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find Red-breasted Nuthatches around here all year. They can be found hopping up and down tree trunks here. And they may show up at bird feeders or making lots of quick trips to and from your feeder.

How big are they? Small. The Red-breasted Nuthatch averages approximately four and one-quarter inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately seven and one-half inches. They weigh in at around 0.4 ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Red-breasted Nuthatch has a rapid flight. They alternate several rapid wing beats with wings drawn to sides. This flight style is called "Flap-bounding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are folded against the body.

How else do they behave? Red-breasted Nuthatches are agile birds that creep along trunks and large branches as they probe for food. And they do this often sideways and upside down on vertical surfaces. Instead of using the tail for support, Red-breasted Nuthatches climb with one foot higher to hang from, and the other lower for support. When they find large nuts and seeds, Red-breasted Nuthatches jam them into the bark and hammer them open. They often store seeds and insects one at a time under loose bark on their territory.

What’s for dinner? In summer, Red-breasted Nuthatches eat mainly insects such as beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and ants. In fall and winter, their diet consists of pine, spruce, and other conifer seeds and nuts, including seeds they cached earlier in the year. At bird feeders, they eat sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet.

Where do they take up residence? Red-breasted Nuthatches reside permanently across much of the U.S. and Canada. They may spend summers in Canada and Alaska and will migrate south to the warmer climates such as Illinois and the northern Midwest. Red-breasted Nuthatches are mainly birds of coniferous woods such as spruce, fir, pine, hemlock, larch, and western red cedar. You will also find these birds in forests of oak, hickory, maple, birch, and other deciduous trees. Like all birds that nest in holes in trees, Red-breasted Nuthatches depend on having dead or partially dead trees left standing in their habitat.

When and where do they breed and nest? Red-breasted Nuthatches typically build their nests in completely dead trees, dead parts of live trees, or abandoned woodpecker holes. Most breeding is done between May and June. The female lays six (6) to eight (8) eggs and incubates over the next 12 days. The young leave nest about three (3) weeks after hatching.

Where do they migrate? Red-breasted Nuthatches do not migrate. They are residents year around across most of the U.S. Red-breasted Nuthatches can also be irruptive, moving southward in great numbers in years when cone production is poor on their breeding grounds.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. Red-breasted Nuthatches are common and their populations increasing. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Red-breasted Nuthatches sing a fast series of nasal notes that sound like “yank-yank”. Here is a link to the sounds of the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Interesting Facts About the Red-breasted Nuthatch:

  • They get their common name “nuthatch” from their habit of jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then whacking them with their sharp bill to “hatch” out the seed from the inside.

  • A group of nuthatches are collectively known as a "jar" of nuthatches.

  • Recognizable for perching upside-down on tree trunks, they have a greatly enlarged hind toe and a short tail, which help them climb up and down trees.

  • They store seeds for later in the winter by wedging them into furrows in the bark of nearby trees.

  • The oldest known Red-breasted Nuthatch lived almost 8 years.

  • Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million.

For more information on the Red-breasted Nuthatch and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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