Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Red-breasted Nuthatch  Sitta canadensis 

   

Description: 

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a common resident of the boreal forests of North America.  It can be seen and heard in non-breeding foraging flocks.  Its ‘yank yank’ call is distinctive.  Its range in coniferous forests extends from the Pacific Coast of B.C. to the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, southward into the mountains of the American Southwest and the southern Appalachians in the east. 

Identification: 

General:  Small, short-billed and short-tailed.  Length: 11.5 cm.  Weight: 10 g. 

Adult Male:  Short black bill.  Distinct white supercilium, black eyeline and black crown.  White throat extending beneath black eyeline.  Back, wings and tail bluish-grey.  Rust underparts. 

Adult Female and Juvenile:  Duller head and paler underparts than adult male. 

Similar Species:  Distinct from all other nuthatches by white supercilium bordered by black eyeline and black crown and rust underparts.  Also, the White-breasted nuthatch is larger. 

Behaviour:  In winter the Red-breasted Nuthatch is frequently found and heard in flocks of chickadees and kinglets.  It exhibits characteristic behaviours, such as climbing head-down on the trunk of trees probing for insects, extracting and caching seeds in the winter.  

Habitat:  Found in mature and diverse stands of coniferous forests, especially where spruce, fir, pine, hemlock, larch and cedar are present.  May breed in mixed woodland when there is a strong coniferous component. 

Information: 

This is the only North American nuthatch to undergo regular irruptive movements that appear to be primarily driven by food shortages. 

Breeding birds excavate their own nest cavities in tree snags, only rarely using existing cavities or nest boxes.  A large amount of conifer resin is collected by parents from live trees and is smeared around the entrance during incubation and nestling periods to deter predators.  Inside, the nest is lined with fur, feathers, hair, and fine grasses.  Five to six eggs are laid and are white to pinkish-white, marked with reddish-brown. 

Conservation: 

Status is Least Concern.

Capture Rates


A year round resident, the Red-breasted Nuthatch's preferred habitat is coniferous forest which occurs within Colony Farm but outside of the banding area. Capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) occur in May and October as a result of few individuals dispersing within the park.

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