The White-breasted Nuthatch has a large head and almost no neck; it is 13 to 14 cm (5.1 to 5.5 in) long, with a wingspan of 20 to 27 cm (7.9 to 11 in) and a weight of 18 to 30 . The tail is very short and the bill is long, narrow and slightly upturned, feet are strong. The bird is gray-blue on the back, with a frosty white face and underparts. The face has a black or grey cap and the lower belly, undertail are often chestnust.

Habitat and Distribution

The breeding habitat of the White-breasted Nuthatch is woodland across North America, from southern Canada to northern Florida and southern Mexico. In the eastern part of its range, its preferred habitat is old-growth open deciduous or mixed forest, including orchards, parks, suburban gardens and cemeteries; it is found mainly in the lowlands, although it breeds at 1,675 m (5,495 ft) altitude in Tennessee. In the west and Mexico, this nuthatch is found in open montane pine-oak woodlands, and nesting occurs at up to 3,200 m (10,500 ft) altitude in Nevada, California and Mexico. Pinyon-juniper and riverside woodlands may be used locally where available. The White-breasted Nuthatch is the only North American nuthatch usually found in deciduous trees; Red-breasted, Pygmy and Brown-headed Nuthatches prefer pines.


This nuthatch is omnivorous, eating insects and seeds. It places large food items such as acorns or hickory nuts in crevices in tree trunks, and then hammers them open with its strong beak; surplus seeds are cached under loose bark or crevices of trees. The diet in winter may be nearly 70% seeds, but in summer it is mainly insects.


The nest cavity is usually a natural hole in a decaying tree, sometimes an old woodpecker nest. The nest hole is usually 3-12 m (9.8-39.4 ft) high in a tree and is lined with fur, fine grass, and shredded bark. The clutch is 5 to 9 eggs which are creamy-white, speckled with reddish brown, and average 19 mm ? 14 mm (0.75 in ? 0.55 in) in size. The eggs are incubated by the female for 13 to 14 days prior to hatching, and the altricial 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.

Calls and Songs

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, and Pacific birds a more nasal beeerf. The White-breasted Nuthatch responds to predators near the nest by flicking its wings while making hn-hn calls.