Article and Photos By: Evan Glynn
White-breasted nuthatches are noisy, active, and curious common feeder birds. They are found throughout a majority of the US in deciduous woods, and any open area with large trees. They are common at feeders where they eat a variety of different offerings from seeds to peanuts and suet.
These nuthatches are compact birds with short tails and practically have no necks. They have white cheeks, breasts, and bellies, and long, pointed bills. They have contrasting dark caps with blue-gray backs. They have rusty patches under their tails. Males and females are mostly identical, but females have slightly more gray caps when compared to the black caps of males.
Look for white-breasted nuthatches foraging up and down tree trunks. They most commonly start high on a tree trunk, then move down head first, hopping along the way as they forage for insects. When finished foraging on one particular tree, they fly from low to high in the next tree. They get the name ‘nuthatch’ from a behavior where they hit seeds and nuts until they are open and expose edible parts.
These birds nest in cavities in trees, and will sometimes use nest boxes. They generally rely on existing natural cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes. Because they nest in cavities, they need to rely on trees that are partially dead or dead trees with holes large enough to support their nest. They may constantly visit a feeder throughout the day. You may be able to follow it between its trips to the feeder to find its nest cavity.
White-breasted nuthatches make a series of different loud, nasally vocalizations. You can hear their rapid ‘wha-wha-wha’ song and their loud nasally ‘yank’ repeated multiple times in a row from feeders and trees.