About The White-breasted Nuthatch

The six-inch, beautifully patterned White-breasted Nuthatch is the largest among four species of nuthatches found in North America. Its long bill, which is either straight or slightly upturned, distinguishes it from other species of nuthatches. Male White-breasted Nuthatches are recognized by their black crown and nape and bluish-gray back. The males are generally more colorful than the females in that, in the female, the crown and nape are more of a gray shade. For both genders, the cheeks and the undersides are white with a slightly pinkish area towards the tail. Their upper parts are bluish-gray with their covert and flight feathers in black. Outer tail feathers are black with white bands that are noticeable when the bird is in flight. On average, White-breasted Nuthatches are 15 cm long and weigh 20 grams.

The White-breasted Nuthatch Nesting Preferences

Preferring to live in mature hardwood forests and oak trees near water, orchards or fields, White-breasted Nuthatches like to build their nests in natural cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes. Non-migratory, they dwell year-round in deciduous woodlands and mixed deciduous and coniferous forests. The female White-breasted Nuthatch builds the nest alone between early May or June although this may differ from region to region. A single brood is raised every breeding season with an average of 5 to 9 pinkish-white eggs incubated by the female for two weeks. While the female is incubating, the male brings her food. After the eggs are hatched, the young nuthatches stay with their parents who feed them until its time for them to disperse to establish their own territories.

Building a Birdhouse For The White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatches are secondary cavity dwellers and, as such, they choose a nesting location that has been created for them naturally or by another bird like a woodpecker. They are also amenable to living in nest boxes created for them. These should be mounted 5 to 10 feet high in a mature forest. This height is necessary to protect them from house sparrows. Make sure the entrance hole faces away from prevailing winds. Leave at least an inch of wood shavings in the box for use as nesting material. The dimensions of the nuthatch house is 12 ½ high x 6 wide x 8 ½ deep.

The White-breasted Nuthatch Mating Habits

White-breasted Nuthatches are monogamous and remain with their partner the whole year from the time of courtship to the creation of a dwelling place or until the partner disappears or dies. While the female builds the nest, the male brings her food and dominates the nest, protecting its partner and doing most of the parental care in the first few days after hatching. As the young birds grow older, both parents care for them until they are ready to leave.

The White-breasted Nuthatch Feeding Preferences

The White-breasted Nuthatches are called such because of their habit of burying nuts or seeds in crevices of a tree and then breaking them open with their bills. Known for their ability to creep up and down the bark of a tree, these birds probe crevices in tree limbs for food which can either be smaller seeds or insects. They also store their seeds in these crevices and in loose barks to be eaten in the future. Studies show that, although the White-breasted Nuthatchs diet is divided between seeds and insects, during summer, they eat only insects which makes them quite valuable in the effort to control insect population during this season.

The insects these birds feed on include forest and tent caterpillars, weevils, ants, scale insects, psyllids, wood borers, leaf beetles, grasshoppers, moths, flies, aphids and cankerworms. Plant materials they feed on include beechnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, sunflower seeds, and corn.

During winter when food is scarce, they may leave their nests to go to feeding stations for suet, wild bird seed mixture, peanuts and sunflower seeds.

Interesting White-breasted Nuthatch Facts

Aside from being one of a few birds who can creep down a tree trunk head first to forage for food or hang upside down, swinging from tiny branches, the White-breasted Nuthatch is also known to exhibit a weird behavior known as bill sweeping in which it picks up a piece of fur, plant or insect with its bill and uses this to sweep around its nests cavity. Scientists believe it does this to remove its own scent around the nest and prevent detection by predators.