Bird Database

Red-breasted Nuthatch

(Sitta canadensis)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Predation, Collisions

Conservation Actions

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

(Sitta canadensis)

Nuthatches are famous for their habit of climbing down trees headfirst, a feat aided by their unusually long hind claws. But they just as often climb sideways or upwards in their search for insects and their larvae hidden in the bark. As people with bird feeders know, they also consume large numbers of seeds, and regularly take extra food away to cache in tree crevices for later use. If a seed has a strong shell in need of opening, the nuthatch will hold it against a hard surface and hammer at it with its bill, and this behavior is the source of the group’s common name.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is partial to coniferous forests, and on average is a more northern species than its larger, white-breasted relative. In many parts of New Hampshire the Red-breasted is primarily a bird seen in migration or winter, when numbers vary considerably among years. These fluctuations, from absent one year to abundant the next, are driven by variation in conifer seed crops to our north, making the Red-breasted Nuthatch an irruptive species like most of our traditional “winter finches.” When there are lots of cones and seeds in Canada, fewer nuthatches need to move south, and when they move they travel until they find a reliable food source. Thus, in years where there are no cones in New Hampshire the nuthatches will pass us by and we’ll only see them again as they return to their breeding areas the following spring. These ups and downs carry over to breeding populations as show in the trend graph, and on average numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches are slowly increasing in the Granite State.

Unlike White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasts will dig their own nest holes if the wood is soft enough, while still taking to existing cavities if any are available. Males who have yet to attract a mate may start several holes in the hopes that one proves attractive to an unmated female, who will then complete the excavation. Nuthatches often coat the rim of their nest hole with pitch, presumably as a deterrent to potential predators, and sometimes accomplish this by using a piece of bark as a tiny trowel.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count