Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

Red-breasted Nuthatch

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Sittidae | [latin] Sitta canadensis | [UK] Red-breasted Nuthatch | [FR] Sittelle a poitrine rousse | [DE] Kanadakleiber | [ES] Trepador Canadiense | [NL] Canadese Boomklever


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Red-breasted nuthatches are small nuthatches with compact bodies, short tails and necks, and a long tapered bill. They have very sturdy toes and claws that allow them to climb down trees headfirst or to move along the undersides of branches with their back to the ground. They average 11.5 cm in length and have an average mass of 10 grams. This is the only North American nuthatch that has a broad black stripe through the eye and a white stripe above it. Other distinguishing characteristics include a black cap on the head, a bluish gray back, and an underside washed with a rusty red or brown color. The chin, cheeks, and sides of the neck are white and the tail is characterized by white bands and dark tips on the outer tail feathers. Their wings are long and pointed and have ten primary flight feathers.

There is little difference between the sexes, except the female has a bluish black cap and paler underparts. Juveniles are similar to adults, but their head markings and underparts are duller in color.

Listen to the sound of Red-breasted Nuthatch

[audio: Nuthatch.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 18 cm wingspan max.: 20 cm
size min.: 11 cm size max.: 12 cm
incubation min.: 12 days incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 18 days fledging max.: 13 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 5  
      eggs max.: 8  


North America : widespread


Red-breasted nuthatches prefer mature, partly open coniferous or mixed conifer-deciduous stands for breeding. They favor stands that have a tall, dense canopy and a dense understory of saplings. This structure provides protection from unfavorable environmental conditions and predators, and provides a greater abundance of arthropods.


Red-breasted nuthatches are monogamous. They form breeding pairs beginning in winter or spring, and stay together for a year or more. Each pair defends a territory through the breeding season, and possibly through the year if the cone crop is good. In order to attract a female, males perform courtship displays that include raising their head and tail, drooping the wings, and fluffing the back feathers. A male sways from side to side and sings with his back turned toward the female. During courtship, males sing up to 50 times per minute from the tops of trees and potential nest trees. They also bring food to the female during courtship.
Red-breasted nuthatches begin breeding in their first year. Both adults take part in nest building. They usually dig a cavity in a tree stump or a branch of a dead tree, or occupy a vacant woodpecker hole. They use smeared resin to protect the inside of the nest, allowing just enough room for their body widths. This prevents insects, small mammals, and other birds from entering the nest cavity. Inside the cavity is a cup nest built with grasses, roots, mosses, shredded bark, and plant fibers.
Breeding occurs from mid-April through early August, with peak activity from May through July. Red-breasted nuthatches raise one brood per year. The female lays 5 to 8 (usually 6) pinkish-white eggs that are speckled with a reddish brown color. One egg is laid each day. The female incubates the eggs, which hatch after 12 to 13 days. During incubation, the male provides food to the female, allowing her to spend more time on the nest. After the eggs are hatched, the altricial nestlings are brooded for the first few days by the female. The male brings food to both the female and young. The young leave the nest 18 to 21 days after hatching. They become fully independent about 2 weeks after fledging.
Because nuthatch chicks are hidden in nest cavities, little is known about the development. The newly hatched young are altricial, which means they are immobile, have closed eyes, and must be cared for by the adult. The female broods the chicks for the first week after hatching. During this time, the male brings food to the nest for the female and chicks. During the nestling and fledgling periods, both adults feed the chicks. They also remove the fecal sacs of the chicks from the nest. The chicks typically leave the nest 18 to 21 days after hatching, but may remain partially dependent on their parents for food for another two weeks.

Feeding habits

Red-breasted nuthatches’ diet consists of pine, spruce, and other conifer seeds and insects including beetles, wasps, caterpillars, crane flies, moths, and insect eggs. In general, the diet consists of mostly arthropods during the breeding season, and conifer seeds during the non-breeding season. The young are fed exclusively insects.

Nuthatches are bark-gleaning birds. They primarily forage on trunks, but also use a wide variety of substrates including branches, stumps, and the ground. They break food apart by wedging it into bark crevices and breaking smaller pieces off, or by prying seeds open with their strong beaks.

Nuthatches regularly store food during the fall and winter. They cache food under bark, in holes in tree trunks, and sometimes on the ground. They obtain water by drinking from small pools of water.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Populations of red-breasted nuthatches are increasing overall, but declining locally in some areas. Red-breasted nuthatches depend on habitat with standing dead trees and a variety of species. Logging and management practices that remove dead trees or reduce plant diversity have a negative impact on nuthatch populations.
Red-breasted Nuthatch status Least Concern


Sitta canadensis is native throughout the Nearctic region. It is the only migratory species in the family Sittidae. Its northern breeding range includes southeast Alaska, southern Yukon, southeast Mackenzie Valley, central Quebec, and Newfoundland in Canada. In the United States it breeds from central Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan, and the southern Oregon border to northern California. On the east coast S. canadensis breeds from southern New York through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. It migrates irregularly to southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Florida to the Gulf Coast.

Distribution map

Red-breasted Nuthatch distribution range map

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