Bird of the Week – The Pygmy Nuthatch

By Bob Walker

Let’s revisit an old but tiny friend. The Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) is one of the smallest and also one of the most common birds that visit the nature center. In most months, you can see them from the observation room, and they can be seen almost any time you are hiking in the forests. At the nature center, they feed both on the suet feeder and make quick trips to the mixed seed feeders as well. They show all the characteristic behaviors of nuthatches – always moving and hopping around, often hanging upside down on feeders and branches. These mostly steel-gray (above) and white (below) birds resemble the White-breasted Nuthatch more than other nuthatches, but can be readily distinguished by their smaller size and distinctive facial pattern. Pygmy Nuthatches are dark brownish on the top of their heads and light in the throat, and the dividing line between light and dark feathers passes directly through their eyes. By comparison, the White-breasted Nuthatch is completely white around its eye.

The very social Pygmy Nuthatch often travels in flocks; you will rarely see just one, and will often see three or more mobbing the suet feeder or seed trays at one time. They nest and roost cooperatively; this year’s chicks will often help mom and dad out with next year’s brood. The photo below shows an adult feeding a young nested inside an old woodpecker hole near the retention pond east of Smith’s Marketplace.

The Pygmy Nuthatch does a lot of chattering, giving off a series of short calling notes you will learn to recognize. This recording of a small flock was made in Boulder, Colorado:

Find more detailed articles about the Pygmy Nuthatch at identify.whatbird.com or allaboutbirds.org. Check out PEEC’s Nature Guide for a comparison of all three of the common nuthatches in Los Alamos. You can enjoy more beautiful photos of Pygmy Nuthatches at the Brian Small and Robert Royse web sites, or by searching images on Google or Flickr.