Bird Database

White-breasted Nuthatch

(Sitta carolinensis)

State of the Birds
At a Glance





Strongly increasing


Predation, Collisions

Conservation Actions

Maintain a bird-friendly yard

White-breasted Nuthatch

(Sitta carolinensis)

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 White-breasted Nuthatch is the more common of the two species in New Hampshire, and is partial to deciduous woods, including those in suburban yards and city parks. They are cavity nesters but do not excavate their own holes, instead using old woodpecker holes or natural openings where a tree has partially rotted away. A pair defends a territory year round, and one of the earliest signs of spring is when males shift from their familiar nasal “yank” calls to their song. The latter isn’t at all musical, and is best described as a more rapid and less nasal series of calls – sometimes rendered as a laugh-like “hah-hah-hah-hah-hah.” By April they’ve quieted down and settled down to nest.

Most research on this nuthatch has been done in the winter, when they join mixed flocks with chickadees and titmice. In flocks the nuthatches stick to the edges and aren’t typically as noticeable as the other species. Also, because they’re territorial they drop in and out as the flock travels through the woods. For this same reason you’ll almost never see more than two White-breasted Nuthatches at your bird feeders. The benefit of joining flocks for nuthatches is believed to relate to predation risk, since chickadees and titmice are more vigilant and regularly alert other birds to danger with unique calls.

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.

White-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