Hey guys, welcome back! The bird you’ve all been waiting for! And by “you all” I mean my mom lol. The White-breasted Nuthatch is one of my mom’s favorite birds because of the way it walks down the side of trees, but we’ll come back to that in a bit. If you have a bird feeder, then chances are pretty good that you’ve had one come visit you, especially in the winter months.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is the most widespread of the four nuthatch species found in the U.S. Despite what their name might suggest, the White-breasted Nuthatch’s favorite food is not nuts or seeds, but rather insects. The best clue to this is their beak. A bird’s beak can tell you a lot of things, one of those being what kind of food they prefer. The nuthatch’s thin, sharp, pointed beak is perfect for picking insects off the barks of trees. “But wait,” you’re all saying, “didn’t you just say they often visit bird feeders?” I did say that, and they do. While insects and larvae may be their preferred food, they do also eat seeds. The White-breasted Nuthatch will eat seeds all year round, but they eat them more frequently in the winter months when insects are scarce, which is probably one of the reasons I still think of them as winter birds.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is a sedentary bird, meaning it doesn’t migrate, unlike some of its cousins. One of their signature habits is walking down the side of a tree! This can make identifying one easier, as most birds walk up a tree. Seeing a bird in the distance facing down can pretty much immediately rule out other birds that feed in similar ways, like the Brown Creeper. Because they usually face down, they don’t use their tail to “lean” on like a woodpecker might. The White-breasted Nuthatch is identifiable by its blue-grey body, black cap, and white face and breast. They also have a call that I think is best described as a sarcastic laugh. Getting to know that call comes in handy as they aren’t always easy to spot, especially when there’s leaves on the trees, since they’re usually right along the trunk, or on the larger branches of the tree.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is a great bird for beginning birders. It’s common, but not, like, sparrow common, and the way they walk down a tree gives beginning birders something perhaps they’ve never noticed a bird doing before, which gets them thinking about a bird’s behavior as a key to identification. Their call isn’t all that loud, so next time you’re in the woods, listen for that soft “sarcastic laugh” and you might catch a glimpse of a White-breasted Nuthatch. Next time, we’ll look at a small bird with a very loud voice, the Carolina Wren!