WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH – (Sitta carolinensis)
The White-breasted nuthatch is an acrobatic small bird that walks down on tree trunks and limbs, even completely upside down, in search of insects in bark crevices. There are several subspecies with plumage variations depending on the geographical areas. The one that breeds on PEI is named Sitta carolinensis carolinensis. The bird is called ‘nuthatch’ due to its habit of inserting seeds and acorns in bark crevices and hammering at them to extract the kernel.
This bird has a blue-grey upper part with a black cap and a black band at the top of the back, and white under parts and face, with a rusty rump. The tail is short and the head is relatively large. The bill is long and straight, strong enough to break open seeds and acorns, part of the bird’s diet in the winter. The feet are also strong for a bird that size, allowing it to walk down trunks. Its winter diet brings the white-breasted nuthatch close to back yards, where it can be seen feasting on sunflower seeds. This bird will hide extra seeds in bark crevices and other small spaces for future use.
The White-breasted nuthatch nests in tree holes and will smear blister beetles near the entrance to deter potential predators such as squirrels.
The species is slightly larger than the brown-breasted nuthatch and its call is also nasal like the latter, but higher-pitched, more rapid and louder. The summer diet consists of insects. Their habitat is mostly mature deciduous forests.
Although the white-breasted nuthatch breeds on PEI, it is listed as ‘rare’ year-round. This bird, as its related smaller brown-breasted nuthatch, does not migrate for the winter. Its range encompasses southern Canada and most of the USA, and the middle section of Mexico.