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Brown-Headed Nuthatch of the Southeastern U.S.

Updated on September 22, 2018
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Since the mid-1980s Yvonne has maintained a registered NWF backyard wildlife habitat where a variety of birds, insects and frogs abound.

Brown headed nuthatches move along branches searching for insects and seeds. These little birds can get into the oddest positions as they hunt for food. I took these photos in an American beech tree near a sunflower seed feeder by our house.
Brown headed nuthatches move along branches searching for insects and seeds. These little birds can get into the oddest positions as they hunt for food. I took these photos in an American beech tree near a sunflower seed feeder by our house. | Source

Nuthatch of the Southeastern U.S. - Photos and Information

Brown-headed Nuthatches are indigenous to the Pine forests of the Southeastern United States where they are permanent residents. They are one of nature's acrobats and we never tire of their antics. On many occasions we have photographed these unusual little birds during feeding and nesting activities.

Their primary food is Pine nuts, so their food supply has been depleted as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Luckily they will also eat black oil sunflower seeds. If you live in the Southeast and want to attract them to your yard, put up a sunflower seed feeder and a bluebird size nest box.

The calls and sounds of a nuthatch as it moves among the trees.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Description

The Brown-headed nuthatch is a small nuthatch. It is often seen climbing headfirst down tree trunks. The crown is brown and the underparts are whitish. The back, nape, wings, and rump blue gray. The male and female look alike.

Size: 10-11 cm (4-4 in)

Wingspan: 16-18 cm (6-7 in)

Weight: 10 g (0.35 ounces)

The calls are high pitched and squeaky, like the squeaks of a rubber duck toy.

Hear the songs of the Brown-headed Nuthatch.

Conservation Status

Populations are decreasing throughout range because of habitat degradation. The population on Grand Bahama Island, which is possibly a distinct subspecies, is nearly gone, probably the result of logging. These birds are listed on the Audubon Watchlist.

Reference: All About Birds

In the pine forests of the Southeast, little groups of Brown-headed Nuthatches are frequent visitors at sunflower seed feeders. They also enjoy suet. After Hurricane Katrina we saw many more Brown-headed Nuthatches at our feeders because most of their natural food, pine nuts, had been destroyed along with the thousands of mature Pine trees.

According to Martin, Zim and Nelson in American Wildlife & Plants A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits, pine seeds make up more than half of their diet. Their animal food is gathered from the trunks and twigs of trees and consists of Hymenoptera, moth eggs, caterpillars and cocoons and scale insects. Plant food consists primarily of Pine seeds.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Eating Sunflower Seed

Nuthatches love sunflower seeds and will readily use feeders.
Nuthatches love sunflower seeds and will readily use feeders.

During the winter the family groups may join and forage with other families or with mixed-species flocks containing woodpeckers, kinglets, titmice and warblers.

Brown headed perching beside its nesting cavity in a pine tree.
Brown headed perching beside its nesting cavity in a pine tree. | Source

Brown-headed Nuthatch 2

This female was perching on a branch near her nest box while the helper fed the brood.
This female was perching on a branch near her nest box while the helper fed the brood. | Source

Nesting Habits

Brown-headed Nuthatches nest in natural cavities and man-made boxes. They seem to favor the natural cavities in our habitat. This year was the first time that they used one of our bluebird sized nestboxes.

They are monogamous and will sometimes mate for life. Very often a Nuthatch pair will have a young family member (usually a yearling male) who acts as a helper or "nanny". We observed that there was always one adult bird either on the nest or very close by. All of the adult birds care for the young. The pair that used our nest box fledged six little nuthatches.

Nest building begins in March, here in South Louisiana. Excavation of a natural cavity is done by both male and female and may take 6 weeks to complete. Some Brown-headed Nuthatches will weatherproof their nest cavities by stuffing plant down or cotton in the crevices.

Nuthatch with Insect for Young

The Bluebird Monitor's Guide to Bluebirds and Other Small Cavity Nesters
The Bluebird Monitor's Guide to Bluebirds and Other Small Cavity Nesters

This is the best guide for building and managing a nest box trail or a couple of boxes. There is wonderful information about the nesting habits of bluebirds and the other birds which use nest boxes. This is my go-to book when I have a question about cavity nesting birds.

 

This is a long video, but it shows the interesting breeding behavior of a pair and a helper from a previous brood in a natural nesting cavity.

Breeding

Nest Type

They nest in holes in trees, usually dead trees, but will use a nest box. Nests are made primarily of pine seed wings, with shredded bark, Spanish moss, grass rootlets, fur, feathers, and other soft material.

Egg Description and Laying

Eggs are white or buffy, with reddish brown spots evenly distributed over egg or concentrated as blotches at the large end. They are laid one a day.

Clutch Size and Incubation

The females usually lay 3-7 eggs (range from 3-9). The female incubates the clutch for 14 days. During this time she may be fed, on and off the nest, by the male and the helper.

Condition at Hatching and Fledging

Young are helpless,with some down on their bodies. They leave the nest after about 18 to 19 days. The fledglings are dependent on their parents for another 24 to 26 days.

Other Facts about Reproduction from All About Birds

Young Nuthatch

The immature birds are mottled gray-brown. By summers end they look like the adults.
The immature birds are mottled gray-brown. By summers end they look like the adults.

Nuthatch Poll

What kind of Nuthatch do you have in your habitat?

See results

© 2008 Yvonne L B

Tell Us About Your Nuthatches

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    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 

      10 years ago

      Great pictures, great information. thanks.

    • profile image

      tdove 

      10 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 

      10 years ago

      I have seen and cataloged many birds but the Nuthatch has alluded me. I have enjoyed this lens and maybe next time a Nuthatch is lurking around my yard, I'll spot him.

      5* and favored

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      rio1 

      10 years ago

      Can't tell you how much I enjoyed this lens. I have marveled at the brown headed nuthatch in my yard.

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