They’re not nearly as common as their relatives the Red-Breasted Nuthatch, but you can still find White-Breasted Nuthatches in K-Country.
Compared to the Red-Breasted cousins, White-Breasteds are absolute chonks. They’re nearly twice as big – though that still puts them only about a third as big as a Robin. White-Breasted Nuthatch are also distinctively coloured. They’re blue-grey with white underneath with a dark cap. In males, that cap is black. Females caps are lighter grey, but can also be almost black.
Both types of Nuthatches have that car-alarm “Yank-yank-yank” call. Both feature the same “head down the trunk to find food” approach to life.
Nuthatches head down trees in search of insects hiding in the bark. But these are year-round residents, and insects are a lot harder to find in winter. In the winter, the diet of a White-Breasted switches to almost 70% seeds. They’re very good at chipping open cones to find seeds summer and winter. They cache seeds they find in summer into the bark of trees to retrieve in winter. Their name derives from their ability to “hatch” nuts and seeds from tree bark in winter.
You can find them in urban environments as well. They love bird seed and suet feeders, especially in winter. They’ll commonly store seeds from your feeder in the bark of nearby trees.
Habits and habitat
White-Breasted Nuthatches are tree cavity nesters, but don’t have the ability to make a cavity on their own. Their Red-Breasted cousins can make holes in trees, but the White’s can’t. They are, therefore, reliant on taking over old nests made by woodpeckers or other birds. On the bright side, K-Country has a LOT of woodpeckers, and trees full of holes. They tend to be a lower elevation species, preferring valley bottoms, and are not commonly seen in the alpine.
White-Breasted Nuthatch are monogamous and a bit territorial. A pair will typically need up to 30-50 acres of their own territory, depending on the kind of environment. The female will lay 5-8 eggs, which will hatch in ~13 days, and the chicks will fledge in another ~25 days. The female is in charge of egg incubation, and the male is in charge of feeding everyone.
In winter, White-Breasteds find a roost similar to their summer nest to hide in at night. They will often roost in larger numbers (up to 20 birds in one roost) to stay warm, and sometimes even with other birds such as Chickadees.
Next time you hear a “car alarm” call in the wilderness, see if you can find the bird making the sound. You may have found a White-Breasted Nuthatch!
Meet some of the other cool birds of K-Country here!