Bird of the Week – The Red-breasted Nuthatch

By Bob Walker

The least often seen of our nuthatches, the Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) has orange-red underparts, is generally blue-steel gray on top, and is the only North American nuthatch with a black eye stripe on his otherwise white face. The males and females look very similar to one another, with the males having a slightly darker black cap and deeper rusty coloration than the females. They are intermediate in size between our smaller Pygmy Nuthatches and the larger White-breasted Nuthatch.

Like other nuthatches, they nimbly search for insects hidden in the crevices of tree bark or limbs. This species is one of our irruptive visitors, seen frequently in some years and then absent for years. The fall and winter of 2017-2018 has been a relatively good year for them, mostly in Upper Los Alamos Canyon near the reservoir, in Bandelier, and in White Rock. The last reported visitor at the Los Alamos Nature Center was in August 2017, but they are around, so be looking for them as you hike the canyons. They will come to feeders for seed, but do not sit still for very long.

These birds nest by making a cavity within a dead or broken tree, usually conifers, but they prefer the softer wood of aspen trees when available. Then, to deter predators, the entrance to the cavity is then lined with a sticky resin-like substance gathered from pine trees. During nest building, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is aggressive, fending off even larger birds that may fly near the entrance of the nest.

The distinctively nasal “yank-yank” cry of a Red-breasted Nuthatch is quite insistent, as heard below in this recording from Arizona:

You can also find more detailed articles about the Red-breasted Nuthatch on the web pages at identify.whatbird.com and allaboutbirds.org, or at PEEC’s Nature Guide. Enjoy more beautiful photos of Red-breasted Nuthatches at the Lynda Goff or Glenn Bartley web sites, or just search the Google or Flickr webpages.