Bird of the Week – The White-breasted Nuthatch

By Bob Walker

You can find the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) at the nature center almost any time of the year. They prefer to eat meaty nuts and suet, so you will see them fly up to the fence and visit the suet feeder, or fly over to the hopper feeder and look for sunflower seeds or peanuts. Less often, they will explore spilled seed on the ground. Often, after they collect a choice seed, you’ll see them fly back to a nearby tree and work on breaking the seed open (“hatching the seed”). They are larger than the other nuthatches we see in Los Alamos. Since nuthatches do not often pose to help you compare their sizes, it is easiest to identify White-breasted Nuthatches by their distinctive white face and breast and a black stripe over their crown that runs to a blue-gray colored back and wings. They have a black, upturned bill and are comfortable climbing upside-down along tree branches, a behavior they share with other nuthatches.

White-breasted Nuthatches are very vocal, and can be heard most any time they come around to feed. This recording is typical of what we hear in Los Alamos County: 

The photo at the top shows a White-breasted Nuthatch entering a nest hole in a Ponderosa Pine tree just a few minutes down the trail from the nature center into Acid Canyon. The photo was taken in mid-May of 2017, and the nuthatch was repeatedly bringing food into the nest hole – he is probably a male bringing food to his mate, who is likely occupying the nest.

There are more detailed articles about the White-breasted Nuthatch on the web pages at identify.whatbird.com or allaboutbirds.org or the PEEC Nature Guide. Enjoy more beautiful photos of White-breasted Nuthatches at the Alan Murphy and Brian Small web sites, or by searching images on Google or Flickr.