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White-Breasted Nuthatch: Field Guide, Pictures, Habitat & Info

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white-breasted nuthatch singing

The white-breasted nuthatch is a small and active bird that you will likely see zipping from place to place. Due to their small size and high activity level, they’re favorites for bird watchers to see and enjoy. 

If you’re trying to spot a white-breasted nuthatch or just want to learn more about these birds, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we break down everything that you need to know.

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Quick Facts About the White-Breasted Nuthatch

Habitat Forests, woodlots, mature deciduous forests, groves, and mixed forests with conifers
Diet Mostly insects and seeds in the winter
Behavior Territorial, aggressive toward other birds, agile, and active
Nesting Nests in empty tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes
Conservation IUCN Least Concern, with an increasing population
Scientific name Sitta carolinensis
Lifespan: 2 years

White-Breasted Nuthatch General Description

The white-breasted nuthatch is a small yet active bird that’s highly visible in many forest regions. They’re about 5 inches long and only weigh between 0.6 and 1.1 ounces.

The white-breasted nuthatch does have a white chest as their name implies, but their back has a blue-gray appearance and they have a black cap. Both males and females are incredibly similar looking, with the only notable difference being that the female’s cap is more gray than black.

white-breasted nuthatch perched
Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

White-Breasted Nuthatch Range, Habitat, Behavior, Diet & Nesting


The white-breasted nuthatch is a North American bird that has a year-round presence in every continental state in the United States.

They also have a presence in southern Canada and through central Mexico. They do have a region in the central United States where they visit during non-breeding seasons, but this area is small. For the most part, the white-breasted nuthatch isn’t a migratory bird, instead preferring to stay in the same region throughout the year.


The white-breasted nuthatch lives up in trees, preferring deciduous forests, although they will live in mixed forests as long as there are deciduous trees. It’s extremely rare to find these birds in a purely coniferous forest.


You’ll see the white-breasted nuthatch constantly flying around to capture insects. While they’re small, they’re extremely territorial and don’t mind trying to drive off other birds.

They’ll shoo away white-breasted nuthatches, woodpeckers, and pretty much any other bird that tries to enter their territory.

White breasted nuthatch outside on branch
Image Credit: yvontrep, Shutterstock


While the white-breasted nuthatch gets their name from the way that they crack open nuts, the truth is that they almost exclusively eat insects.

They’ll eat nuts and seeds throughout the lean winter months, but that’s about it. When they do need to crack open a nut, they’ll put it into a woodpecker hole and then use their beak to crack it open and get the nut out of the shell.


The white-breasted nuthatch is an opportunistic nester, choosing to find open holes in existing trees to build their nest. They often use old woodpecker holes to build their nest, and they’re one species that benefits from the woodpecker’s activities, even though it might seem like they are damaging trees.

hummingbird divider How to Find the White-Breasted Nuthatch: Birdwatching Tips

What to Listen For

If you’re looking to find a white-breasted nuthatch, listening for them is your best method. They’re noisy birds that let out a loud nasally call a few times in a row. Both males and females make this call, adding to their overall noise level.

What to Look For

When looking for a white-breasted nuthatch, you need to head out to a mature deciduous forest, particularly one with woodpecker activity. Once you’re there, look for woodpecker holes, as that’s where the white-breasted nuthatch typically builds their nest.

When to Look

This is an active bird because they mostly eat insects, so they’re constantly zipping around during the day, especially in the cooler early morning and evening. But as long as there’s daylight, it’s a good time to spot a white-breasted nuthatch.

a white-breasted nuthatch bird on a tree trunk
Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

Attracting the White-Breasted Nuthatch to Your Backyard: Tips & Tricks

If you’re looking to attract a white-breasted nuthatch to your yard, you need a mature tree or two for them to build their nest in.

After that, you can put out a few bird feeders, but this is likely only to help them out during the winter months. During the warmer months, they’ll want to eat insects, so having them in your yard will be beneficial.

Another thing that you can do to increase the likelihood of white-breasted nuthatches visiting or setting up residence in your yard is to put out a bird bath. Not only does this give them a place to get a drink, but it can also encourage insects, creating food for the birds!

White-Breasted Nuthatch Conservation: Is this Bird Threatened?

Currently, the white-breasted nuthatch does not have any conservation concerns. Not only does the IUCN list them in its “Least Concern” category, but their population numbers are also on the rise.

However, with climate change, it is likely that their range will shift farther north to match the warming climate. Still, it doesn’t seem like the white-breasted nuthatch will have any problems adapting.

hummingbird divider Conclusion

With their small size and adorable appearance, the white-breasted nuthatch is well worth trying to track. Even better, when you do spot them, you can enjoy watching them fly around from place to place, as they rarely stay still.

However, since they’re territorial, don’t expect too many other birds to be in the immediate area.

Featured Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.