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White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch
Sitta carolinensis
Order: Passeriformes; Family: Sittidae

A White-breasted Nuthatch spends much of its life with its head toward the ground, creeping down or sideways while it hunts for insects on tree trunks. Holding on to the tree with its strong feet, the nuthatch uses its sturdy sharp bill to hammer open seeds and nuts.

It is a small blue-grey bird with a black-capped head and a white face and undersides, appearing rusty orange only towards the rear and under the short tail.

Nuthatches are generally forest dwellers. The White-breasted Nuthatch lives primarily in open woodlands in western and eastern North America from southern Canada into Mexico.

Its relative, the Red-breasted Nuthatch, lives mostly in northern and western conifer (pine, spruce, cedar and fir) forests. It is occasionally seen in Northern Virginia during the winter months.

Pairs are permanent residents, and nest in tree cavities within their territory.

The male feeds the female while she is sitting on the brown-speckled creamy-white eggs. Both birds then share in feeding the young for four to six weeks after hatching.

Usually foraging for insects and seeds on trees in warmer weather, during the winter the White-breasted Nuthatch will join groups of other small birds in visiting bird feeders, where it prefers peanuts, suet and sunflower seeds. It often stores food in crevices and under loose bark, returning later to feed.

If food is scarce in the Appalachian mountains, the Red-breasted Nuthatch may come down and mingle with its cousins in the piedmont woods and suburbs. This bird can be distinguished from the White-breasted Nuthatch by its rusty-colored undersides and a black stripe on both sides of the eyes.

Photos © Julia Flanagan; Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax, Virginia