Updated: Nov 5, 2020
There are 4 species of nuthatch in North America. These are their stories. Or just photos, ranges, and general information for each species. Either way, please read?
Nuthatches live life one vertical surface at a time. With their short tails and gargantuan, herculean feet, they live a life that even Spiderman could not fathom. They spend their time climbing up and down tree trunks, finding invertebrates hiding in the cracks. However, not all their time is spent on insects. Their English surname is earned by their winter practice of cracking open nuts and seeds.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is the largest North American nuthatch, residing throughout our deciduous and coniferous forests. While typically this species is non-migratory, they can be irruptive. They are natural cavity nesters, often in areas that are difficult to see or access. They are a species known to hoard or cache lots of food prior to winter.
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
This species is a resident of the boreal forests of North America, the Rocky Mountains, Appalachia, and the Pacific forests. They winter in a variety of habitats throughout the southeastern United States. They are an irruptive species, with movements driven largely by a shortage of winter foods. Another cavity nester, they often smear resin around the entrance of the cavity to deter predators.
Red-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
This highly social nuthatch is found throughout the Interior West and Pacific Coast. They are typically found in drier ponderosa pine forests, though they can appear in other habitats. This nuthatch is also a cavity nester, though, it is unique being a cooperative nester. What is a cooperative nester? It is a species with "helpers" that assist in the brooding, nestlings, and fledglings of a nest. They can often be relatives, or even progeny, of the nesting pair. It also has been documented to have used tools in foraging. The Pygmy Nuthatch is similar in appearance to the Brown-headed Nuthatch. Luckily, their ranges are far enough apart, that identification should never be an issue. However, the cap of the Pygmy is duller than the Brown-headed Nuthatch, and it has a gray nape (with white spot) vs the brown nape (with white spot) of the Brown-headed.
Pygmy Nuthatch Range Map
The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a species endemic to the pine forests of the southeastern United States. Like the Pygmy Nuthatch, it is a cooperative breeder and has been documented using tools to forage! The Pygmy Nuthatch is similar in appearance to the Brown-headed Nuthatch. Luckily, their ranges are far enough apart, that identification should never be an issue. However, the cap of the Pygmy is duller than the Brown-headed Nuthatch, and it has a gray nape (with white spot) vs the brown nape (with white spot) of the Brown-headed.
Brown-headed Nuthatch Range Map
Love nuthatches and want to attract them to your yard? Read our guide to buying bird feeders!
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Want to attract nuthatches to your yard?
Suet is a great source of energy for birds like nuthatches and woodpeckers. They will certainly appreciate the fattening treat. Nuthatches are also big fans of black oil sunflower seed! Want to see more birdseed and other food options for backyard birdfeeding? Check out our post on that very topic!
The Brown Creeper is not a nuthatch. It is not even in the Nuthatch family! However, when birders think of nuthatches, the Brown Creeper does what it does best, and it creeps into their thoughts. So, I thought I would include it! Unlike nuthatches, creepers typically are only able to go up a tree trunk. The Brown Creeper is a largely insectivorous species that resides in some of the harshest locales in the country. Yet, in wintertime, their diet is comprised mostly of invertebrates.
This highly cryptic species is not easily found. Its vocalizations are high-pitched, often unheard by those who are chatting as they walk through the woods.
Brown Creeper Range Map
Want the best guides for identifying birds? Here are our top 4 guides for nuthatch identification available from Amazon:
Brown-headed Nuthatch Photo - Brown-headed Nuthatch flickr photo by USFS - Southern Region under a Public Domain Mark 1.0.
Pygmy Nuthatch Photo - Pygmy Nuthatch flickr photo by Robb Hannawacker under a Public Domain Mark 1.0.