White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).


I think of white-breasted nuthatches as part of the jet-set of feeder birds. Whereas birds like house finches and cardinals come and sit a while, which makes them easier to photograph, birds like white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, and tufted titmice grab-and-go. They seem too busy to waste time sitting around the feeders and are therefore hard to catch in a photo. Usually a grey blur of departing wings is all I get by the time I push the shutter.


According to Birds of New Jersey, white-breasted nuthatches are non-migratory, stay in pairs for the whole year, and are often seen in flocks with chickadees and downy woodpeckers, which would explain the mirror-image photo here with a downy sharing some suet. I would also add tufted titmice to the mixed flock. They all tend to show up at the feeders about the same time. As you can see, I’m mixing in January and February photos in this post. No snow in January; lots of snow in February.


White-breasted nuthatches have a large head, no neck to speak of, a short tail, and a long narrow bill that is slightly upturned. The male has a black cap; the female a grey cap. The lower belly has a tinge of chestnut, as you can see in these photos.


White-breasted nuthatches seem to live upside-down. Birds of New Jersey¬†attributes this characteristic to their long hind toe claw, which gives them particularly good climbing ability and also grants them an upside-down chance at insects and eggs other birds may miss. It’s all in one’s perspective after all.

As you can see, they come to the feeders for both suet and sunflower seeds. I hope they continue to consider my garden their territory and bring their young ones to the feeders in the spring. If it ever comes.

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