Red-breasted Nuthatch

The Red-breasted Nuthatch or Sitta Canadenis are small songbirds. The name Canadensis, in New Latin, means “belonging to Canada” where these birds are most often found.

The word Nuthatch refers to the linguistic change for Nuthack. Both refer to these birds’ habit of breaking down their food by wedging it into cracks in trees and hacking at them.

About Red-breasted Nuthatches

These Sparrow-like birds are very energetic. They are superspecies and make a clade with the Corsican and Chinese Nuthatches. They are monotypic and unlike other birds with vibrant red plumages, despite having the name “red-breasted”, they have a duller but unique colour pattern. These birds flock in varying numbers and are independent foragers. They are also talented climbers, given the structure of their legs and claws.

In this module, we will learn about the following:

● Red-breasted Nuthatches Photos, Colour Pattern, Song.
● Red-breasted Nuthatches Eating behaviour, Habitat.
● Red-breasted Nuthatches Range and Migration, Nesting.


Red-breasted Nuthatch Color Pattern

The adult males have blue-gray upperparts and cinnamon underparts. The cinnamon color leaves a light reddish-brown airbrush-like effect on their chests and bellies. They have white throats and faces with a straight grey bill. They have a black stripe that runs along either side of the face and over the eyes, called an eyeliner or eye strip. Their crowns are black too.

They have a white stripe at the eyebrows or supercilium. Females and young show a similar color pattern. Both are paler at the chest and belly and have duller heads.

Description and Identification

These birds are hard to spot, but you can find them by following their call and keeping an eye out for them when they climb down, out of their trees to feed.

These Nuthatches are small and have compact bodies, short tails, and necks with long tapered bills. They have strong and sturdy toes, claws, and legs to help them climb and perch. Although their legs are short, it gives them more support while climbing up and down trees.

Both sexes look quite similar except for a slight difference in color. Red-breasted Nuthatches have a distinct sharp and nasal sound. And are most often spotted in partly open coniferous forests. They flit around from tree to tree frequenting from nest to their nutritional territories.  

Red-breasted Nuthatch Song

Red-breasted Nuthatches have a high-pitched and nasal call. The start is sharp and ends weakly or falls slightly. The sound is described as a “yenk” or an “ink”.

They are similar to the sound of a tin horn or a child’s noisemaker. They repeat a pattern of “eens” slowly. These singers have a variety of softer sounds as well, which is different from their sister and cousin Nuthatches. Their song is especially different during mating season, where they are slightly softer.

Red-breasted Nuthatches Size

These birds are small. They are roughly the size of a common House Sparrow weighing only around 10 grams to 11.2 grams. The average size or length is about 4.5 inches. Their wingspan is 8.5 inches. Although small, they are agile, extremely territorial, feisty, and full of energy.  

Red-breasted Nuthatches Behavior

Red-breasted Nuthatches are also known as acrobatic birds. They enjoy perching on trees and diving. They climb down trees headfirst, looking like they walk down the trees. Red-breasted Nuthatches can walk on the underside of branches with the help of their claws.

Unlike Woodpeckers, they do not use their tails for support to prop themselves up while climbing up or down. Their short legs allow them to maintain balance without doing so.

These birds forage individually or in pairs. They are known for their efficient ways of cracking open shells and breaking down their food by lodging it into a crack of a tree and hacking away at it as opposed to holding it with its claws.

They are extremely territorial, especially during the breeding season. Red-breasted Nuthatches form monogamous pairs which stay together throughout winters to protect their nests and territories. The adults are self-sufficient, clever, and independent.

In 1999, Ghalambor and Martin conducted an experiment that studied the risk-taking behaviors in Red-breasted Nuthatches and White Nuthatches. The study recorded that, unlike the White Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches value the survival of adults and the future breeds than the current or present brood. They respond to adult predators
more by hiding or skipping a visit to the nest. Females who are in the nests at times of threat or an approaching predator, fly out to distract it and also display similar motions to the males’ combat and threat behaviors.

Males display threat behaviors when they are confronted by potential threats. They maintain a posture that includes drooping wings, raised crest feathers, and erecting their tails. They lower their heads and fan their tails in a pendulum-like motion. These displays are similar to the displays of mating behavior.

These birds are diurnal and migrate during winters. During this movement, they mix with other flocks. Their migration is erratic as they flock in varied numbers and destinations depending on the availability of food and other resources.

When found in the suburbs, they rarely use the bird houses left by humans. They prefer excavating dead trees and making their own nests. They even avoid abandoned Woodpecker nests and others left behind by other birds and animals.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Diet

These birds are primarily carnivores, more specifically Insectivores. Their diet consists of insects like beetles, wasps, caterpillars, crane flies, moths, and eggs of insects. Arthropods are preferred especially during the breeding season.

They also consume pine, spruce, and other coniferous seeds. During winters when their primary source of food like insects, is scarce, they switch to seeds and nuts for sustenance. They are also known to store these in excavated trees.

They stash food under bark, in holes in tree trunks, and sometimes on the ground. Red-breasted Nuthatches obtain water by drinking from small pools of water. They switch diets according to season and location and occasionally go fly catching in summers. The young are exclusively fed insects until they leave their nests.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Habitat

These birds prefer temperate regions with partly open and mature coniferous forests or mixed confer-deciduous stands for breeding. This gives them protection from unfavorable environmental changes as well as predators. They inhabit the Nearctic range or belt.

Apart from that, these regions are rich in arthropods, their primary and preferred source of nutrition. Trees like ponderosa pine and incense cedar have rough barks which support the diversity of such insects.

Range and Migration

Red-breasted Nuthatches have a reputation for being full-time residents of northern and subalpine forests. They are primarily native to Canada, Alaska, North-eastern and western United States. In the United States, it breeds from central Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan, and the southern Oregon border to northern California. While on the east coast from southern New York through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina.

These birds might migrate during winters, but the numbers and locations differ every season. Irregular migration tends to flock towards southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Florida to the Gulf Coast. Sometimes, they reach as far as Northern Mexico and South along the Pacific slope. Some are found in the Eastern United States and spread southwards.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Lifecycle

These birds have a life expectancy of 6 years. The longest lifespan one has lived is found to be seven years and six months.

Females and males both build the nest, but the females have recorded to be more active in nest building. The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 13 days after which the nestlings remain in their nests for the following two or three weeks.

The hatchlings are underdeveloped or altricial. They are naked, blind, and immobile. During this period, the chicks are feed a staple diet of arthropods until they fledge and are able to fend for themselves.

Normally, the pairs have one brood a year. Females mature sexually after a year. After that, they mate, and the cycle is repeated. These members of the avian kingdom, like many other species, are monogamous.


After courtship, the pairs make their nests by digging into old rotten trees or stubs. These are usually between 5 to 20 feet above ground level. They rarely use old woodpecker nests and prefer creating their own. After digging, they use sticky resin from the trees called a pitch to cover the entrance, leaving a small hole just big enough for the adult birds to fit through.

To avoid getting stuck in the pitch, these birds fly directly into the hole. The females lay down the nest by accumulating twigs, moss, and other plant matter, and do most of the nest building while the males feed and defend. The females lay between four to seven white eggs with reddish-brown spots on them. After incubation by females for twelve to thirteen days.

Anatomy of Red-breasted Nuthatches

These birds are quite similar to Redstarts and Sparrows. They are small, compact songbirds. Red-breasted Nuthatches have short legs, strong feet, and claws to help them climb and walk on trees.

They have a short tail which they mainly use for flying and when displaying threatening or mating behaviors. Red-breasted Nuthatches are Sparrow-sized and have a wingspan that is almost twice the length of their bodies. They are long, pointed, and have ten primary flight feathers.

Both sexes are more or less alike, males are brighter in color after maturity. They are the only American Nuthatches to have the black eye stripe and white supercilium. Their tails have white bands and dark tips.

Final Thoughts

Red-breasted Nuthatches and four other species the Corsican Nuthatch, the Chinese Nuthatch, the Algerian Nuthatch, and the Kruper’s Nuthatch were thought to be a single species. These five make up a well-defined species group known as the “Sitta canadensis group”, and are sometimes considered to be superspecies. Within the species group, studies have shown that the Red-breasted Nuthatch, the Corsican Nuthatch, and the Chinese Nuthatch make up one clade and the other two, make up a sister clade. The red-breasted nuthatch is monotypic across its extensive range. They also have a larger variety of softer sounds compared to the other Nuthatches.

These birds were said to have been residents in Isla Guadalupe, a little off the west Mexican coast, but have been extirpated as per the last record in 1971. Still seen in parts of Mexico, they are also very rarely found in parts of Europe.

Due to rises in human population, they can be seen flitting about in suburban regions where they rarely stay in man-made bird houses but enjoy seed and peanut butter from feeders.

In the Americas, these birds are protected under the Migratory Birds Treaty Act of 1918. Red-breasted Nuthatches are not endangered. They, in fact, come under “least concerned” under the International Union for Natural conservation due to their rate of breeding and strong numbers. They are important for seed dispersal and pest control as both are sources of food for them. Seeds are dispersed through fecal matter and spillage or dropping during trips back and forth from nest to source of food, and migration.

They are not endangered by humans as much even after depletion of forest area but are vulnerable to Hawks, Merlins, Owls who are adult predators, and Weasels, Mice, Squirrels, and House Wrens who are egg predators.

The females who brood over the nestlings and eggs will often swoop out to distract the predator by swaying the tail and spreading wings if she is in the nest. They, however, prefer to protect the future chances of breeding by hiding themselves or avoiding confrontation with such predators. Due to shortages in food in the north, there have been irruptions of their members of the bird kingdom in the southern regions of America. This sudden influx of large numbers of birds is triggered by seasonal crop failures.


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Red-breasted Nuthatches

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Red-breasted Nuthatches are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Red-breasted Nuthatch. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders For Red-breasted Nuthatches

There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.

Best Bird Houses For Red-breasted Nuthatches

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

Please Share to Help Us Get Kids Bird Watching