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White Breasted Nuthatch FAQ

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sitta carolinensis  
  • WBNU: shorthand for White-breasted Nuthatch; using alpha codes (first letter of first two words, first two letters of last word); shorthand comes in handy when you are creating a checklist in the field or typing in your data on eBird)
  • HABITAT: mixed forests, woodlots, open pine forests, backyards
  • DISTRIBUTION: common and widespread, found year round in GA, rarer in southeast GA
  • IDENTIFICATION: bluish/grey back and wings, white face, dark eye, dark black crown/nape with rusty brown undertail coverts, short tail; female has a lighter greyer crown with dark edges (at times difficult to distinguish)
  • NESTING: prefers a natural cavity, and reuses or recycles an old woodpecker cavity/hole;unlike other nuthatches (Brown-headed and Red-breasted) the WBNU does not excavate the nesting site and will take a nesting box
  • FEEDING: forages on trees similar to woodpeckers except they use only their feet to climb and do not use their tail to prop on a tree; known for their foraging style of moving head down on the tree trunk; eats larvae and adult insects found behind the bark of trees; also eat nuts and corn as well as seeds and suet from feeders
  • VOICE: calls sound like a soft, slightly nasal sounding "yank, yank, yank, yank" on one pitch, lower and coarser when agitated; differs from similar species- a lower tone quality than the Red-breasted Nuthatch; Brown-headed Nuthatch sounds like a high pitched squeaky dog toy
  • BREEDING RANGE: throughout the east, except FL
  • NEST: in a tree cavity, 15-50 feet above ground; cavity is lined by female while male helps, female lines the nest with softer materials; uses bark, grasses, fur, hair, cocoons
  • EGGS:  lays 5-10 egg; 8 eggs are commonly laid; short oval shaped eggs; shell of egg is smooth and white, usually marked heavily with varying shades of brown to lavendar spots; larger end of egg has denser spotting; young born altricial
  • INCUBATION: Female sits on eggs for approximately 12-15 days and will only have 1 brood; young will fledge in 18-26 days 
  • NOTE: nesting in larger cavities creates competition with larger species or other animals such as squirrels; use of a bill sweeping behavior during breeding season as a strategy to defend their territory; use an insect, seed or vegetation to sweep around entrance of cavity; theory is that this wiping of insects may deter squirrels, etc.
  •  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-breasted_Nuthatch



  • The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia By Schneider, Beaton, Keyes, Klaus
  • The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior By David Sibley
  • Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America By Roger Tory Peterson
  • Stokes Field Guide to Birds Eastern Region By Donald & Lillian Stokes
  • Birds of Georgia By Parrish, Beaton, Kennedy
  • Eastern Birds' Nests By Hal H. Harrison

Vocabulary To Know

SCIENTIFIC NAME -  a universal name used for classification usually in the Latin language

CALL - simple noise used to communicate a bird's location, orient a flock, alert others to food, water or danger, intimidate other animals or identify a bird

SONG -  complex noises generally produced by a male to attract a female or to announce his territory

MNEMONIC - a clever way of helping your brain memorize or associate sounds using easily remembered phrases or sounds created by birds ex. "yank, yank, yank" 

HABITAT -  A place where an organism (bird) meets all of its needs for survival - food, water, shelter, and space to raise young

DISTRIBUTION - the area or range in which a species is found

ROOST - v. to rest; n. a place where a bird rests

CLUTCH - a set of eggs

EGG MARKINGS - the visible designs or camoflauge on an egg shell described as: spotted, dotted, blotched, splashed, scrawled, marbled, streaked, capped, wreathed, or overlaid (WBNU eggs are spotted)

EGG SHAPES - four general egg shapes: elliptical, subelliptical, oval, pyriform; each of these shapes can be found shortened, elongated or rounded in various degrees

INCUBATION - the process of a bird applying its body heat to the egg(s)

ALTRICIAL -  young are born helpless and naked- no feathers or have sparse down at the time of hatching; the young birds are not able to leave the nest, the eyes are closed, and need parents to care for and feed

BROODING - parent's behavior of keeping the eggs or nestlings warm during a period of time when nestlings are not able to maintain their own body temperatures

BROOD PATCH - an area on the lower abdomen of the bird that is lacking feathers; the skin on this area has become thickened allowing for richer amount of blood vessels in the skin; to have skin contact with eggs for warming; feathers are often lost in this area before incubation

FECAL SAC - the mucous membrane wrapped around a nestling's feces; adult birds will carry this out of the nest to help keep the nest clean and birds healthy

DOWN FEATHER -  these are the soft, fluffy feathers that help keep a bird warm

CONTOUR FEATHER - smooth and stiff feathers, yet flexible and lightweight. Contour feathers found on the wing are called flight feathers

FLIGHT FEATHERS - create lift, or the force that allows a bird to fly, and allow a bird to maneuver in the air

PREEN - when a bird uses its beak to personally groom or clean feathers 

FLEDGLING - the young bird that has left the nest but is still dependant on the parent bird(s) and may stay in the general nest area 

References:  Atlanta Audubon Society Learning About Birds Curriculum; Sibley Guide to Bird Life& Behavior  By David Allen Sibley; Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Birds' Nests By Hal. H. Harrison; A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North America By Paul Baicich and Colin Harrison

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