Nuthatches of North America

Updated: 4 days ago

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.



White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch Female (Rocky Mountains)

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

White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

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

Red-breasted Nuthatch Range Map


Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

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

Pygmy Nuthatch Range Map


Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch - It is banded!

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

Brown-headed Nuthatch Range Map

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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.


Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper Foraging Up a Tree Trunk

Check out the AMAZING crypsis of this Brown Creeper!


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

Brown Creeper Range Map

Want the best guides for identifying birds? Here are our top 4 guides for nuthatch identification available from Amazon:


  1. The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd edition

  2. The Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds)

  3. Sibley Birds East and Sibley Birds West

  4. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th Edition



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Credits/References

Brown Creeper - Poulin, J., É. D'Astous, M. Villard, S. J. Hejl, K. R. Newlon, M. E. McFadzen, J. S. Young, and C. K. Ghalambor (2020). Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.brncre.01
Brown Creeper Range Map - Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018
Brown-headed Nuthatch - Slater, G. L., J. D. Lloyd, J. H. Withgott, and K. G. Smith (2020). Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.bnhnut.01
Brown-headed Nuthatch Photo - Brown-headed Nuthatch flickr photo by USFS - Southern Region under a Public Domain Mark 1.0.
Brown-headed Nuthatch Range Map - Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018
Pygmy Nuthatch - Kingery, H. E. and C. K. Ghalambor (2020). Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.pygnut.01
Pygmy Nuthatch Photo - Pygmy Nuthatch flickr photo by Robb Hannawacker under a Public Domain Mark 1.0.
Pygmy Nuthatch Range Map - Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018
Red-breasted Nuthatch - Ghalambor, C. K. and T. E. Martin (2020). Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rebnut.01
Red-breasted Nuthatch Range Map - Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018
White-breasted Nuthatch - Grubb Jr., T. C. and V. V. Pravosudov (2020). White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.whbnut.01
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map - Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018

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