Vol. 2, No. 3 – The White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch or Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

White-breasted Nuthatch or Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

From col. F. M. Woodruff. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.



EARLY every one readily recognizes this species as it runs up and down and around the branches and trunks of trees in search of insect food, now and then uttering its curious Quauk, quauk, quauk. The White-breasted Nuthatch is often improperly called “Sapsucker,” a name commonly applied to the Downy Woodpecker and others. It is a common breeding bird and usually begins nesting early in April, and two broods are frequently reared in a season. For its nesting place it usually selects the decayed trunk of a tree or stub, ranging all the way from two to sixty feet above the ground. The entrance may be a knot hole, a small opening, or a small round hole with a larger cavity at the end of it. Often the old excavation of the Downy Woodpecker is made use of. Chicken feathers, hair, and a few dry leaves loosely thrown together compose the nest.

This Nuthatch is abundant throughout the State of Illinois, and is a permanent resident everywhere except perhaps of the extreme northern counties. It seems to migrate in spring and return in autumn, but, in reality, as is well known, only retreats to the woodlands to breed, emerging again when the food supply grows scant in the autumn.

The Nuthatches associate familiarly with the Kinglets and Titmice, and often travel with them. Though regarded as shy birds they are not really so. Their habits of restlessness render them difficult of examination. “Tree-mice” is the local name given them by the farmers, and would be very appropriate could they sometimes remain as motionless as that diminutive animal.

Careful observation has disclosed that the Nuthatches do not suck the sap from trees, but that they knock off bits of decayed or loose bark with the beak to obtain the grubs or larvae beneath. They are beneficial to vegetation. Ignorance is responsible for the misapplied names given to many of our well disposed and useful birds, and it would be well if teachers were to discourage the use of inappropriate names and familiarize the children with those recognized by the best authorities.

Referring to the Nuthatches Mr. Baskett says: “They are little bluish gray birds, with white undervests—sometimes a little soiled. Their tails are ridiculously short, and never touch the tree; neither does the body, unless they are suddenly affrighted, when they crouch and look, with their beaks extended, much like a knot with a broken twig on it. I have sometimes put the bird into this attitude by clapping my hands loudly near the window. It is an impulse that seems to come to the bird before flight, especially if the head should be downward. His arrival is sudden, and seems often to be distinguished by turning a somersault before alighting, head downward, on the tree trunk, as if he had changed his mind so suddenly about alighting that it unbalanced him.

“I once saw two Nuthatches at what I then supposed was a new habit. One spring day some gnats were engaged in their little crazy love waltzes in the air, forming small whirling clouds, and the birds left off bark-probing and began capturing insects on the wing. They were awkward about it with their short wings, and had to alight frequently to rest. I went out to them, and so absorbed were they that they allowed me to approach within a yard of a limb that they came to rest upon, where they would sit and pant till they caught their breath, when they went at it again. They seemed fairly to revel in a new diet and a new exercise.”


WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH.Sitta carolinensis. Other name: “Sapsucker,” improperly called.

Range—Eastern United States and British Provinces.

Nest—Decayed trunk of tree or stub, from two to six feet from ground, composed of chicken feathers, hair, and dry leaves.

Eggs—Five to eight; white with a roseate tinge, speckled with reddish brown and a slight tinge of purple.

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) by Matt Wagner

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) by Matt Wagner

Lee’s Addition:

If a bird’s nest should chance to be before you in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother bird is sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother bird with the young. (Deuteronomy 22:6 AMP)

This bird belongs to the Sittidae – Nuthatches Family and is a cousin to 27 other Nuthatches around the world.

The White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is a small songbird of the nuthatch family which breeds in old-growth woodland across much of temperate North America. It is a stocky bird, with a large head, short tail, powerful bill and strong feet. The upperparts are pale blue-gray, and the face and underparts are white. It has a black cap and a chestnut lower belly. The nine subspecies differ mainly in the color of the body plumage.

Like other nuthatches, the White-breasted Nuthatch forages for insects on trunks and branches, and is able to move head-first down trees. Seeds form a substantial part of its winter diet, as do acorns and hickory nuts that were stored by the bird in the fall. The nest is in a hole in a tree, and the breeding pair may smear insects around the entrance as a deterrent to squirrels. Adults and young may be killed by hawks, owls and snakes, and forest clearance may lead to local habitat loss, but this is a common species with no major conservation concerns over most of its range.

The White-breasted Nuthatch has a large head, short tail, short wings, a powerful bill and strong feet; it is 5–6 in (13–14 cm) long, with a wingspan of 8–11 in (20–27 cm) and a weight of 0.64–1.06 oz (18–30 g).

The adult male of the nominate subspecies, S. c. carolinensis, has pale blue-gray upperparts, a glossy black cap (crown of the head), and a black band on the upper back. The wing coverts and flight feathers are very dark gray with paler fringes, and the closed wing is pale gray and black, with a thin white wing bar. The face and the underparts are white. The outer tail feathers are black with broad diagonal white bands across the outer three feathers, a feature readily visible in flight.

The female has, on average, a narrower black back band, slightly duller upperparts and buffer underparts than the male. Her cap may be gray, but many females have black caps, and cannot be reliably distinguished from the male in the field. In the northeastern United States, at least 10% of females have black caps, but the proportion rises to 40–80% in the Rocky Mountains, Mexico and the southeastern U.S. Juveniles are similar to the adult, but duller plumaged.

Like other nuthatches, this is a noisy species with a range of vocalizations. The male’s mating song is a rapid nasal qui-qui-qui-qui-qui-qui-qui. The contact call between members of a pair, given most frequently in the fall and winter is a thin squeaky nit, uttered up to 30 times a minute. A more distinctive sound is a shrill kri repeated rapidly with mounting anxiety or excitement kri-kri-kri-kri-kri-kri-kri-kri; the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin subspecies have a higher, faster yididitititit call,[2] and Pacific birds a more nasal beeerf.

Three other, significantly smaller, nuthatches have ranges which overlap that of White-breasted, but none has white plumage completely surrounding the eye. Further distinctions are that the Red-breasted Nuthatch has a black eye line and reddish underparts, and the Brown-headed and Pygmy Nuthatches each have a brown cap, and a white patch on the nape of the neck.

The White-breasted Nuthatch is monogamous, and pairs form following a courtship in which the male bows to the female, spreading his tail and drooping his wings while swaying back and forth; he also feeds her morsels of food. The pair establish a territory and then remain together year-round until one partner dies or disappears. The nest cavity is usually a natural hole in a decaying tree, sometimes an old woodpecker nest. The nest hole is usually 10–40 ft (3–12 m) high in a tree and is lined with fur, fine grass, and shredded bark. The clutch is five to nine eggs which are creamy-white, speckled with reddish brown. The eggs are incubated by the female for 13 to 14 days prior to hatching, and the chicks fledge in a further 18 to 26 days. Both adults feed the chicks in the nest and for about two weeks after fledging, and the male also feeds the female while she is incubating. This species of nuthatch roosts in tree holes or behind loose bark when not breeding, and has the unusual habit of removing its faeces from the roost site in the morning. It usually roosts alone except in very cold weather, when up to 29 birds have been recorded together. (From Wikipedia with editing)


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for September 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – Blackburnian Warbler

The Previous Article – The Captive’s Escape

Sharing The Gospel


Sittidae – Nuthatches Family

White-breasted Nuthatch – All About Birds

White-breasted Nuthatch – Wikipedia

White-breasted Nuthatch – WhatBird


One thought on “Vol. 2, No. 3 – The White-Breasted Nuthatch

  1. Pingback: Birding with My Granddaughter « Sillyfrog's Blog

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