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Sittidae - Nuthatches

Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis ©Alan & Elaine Wilson - Creative Commons Website

The nuthatches constitute a genus, Sitta, of small passerine birds belonging to the family Sittidae. Characterised by large heads, short tails, and powerful bills and feet, nuthatches advertise their territory using loud, simple songs. Most species exhibit grey or bluish upperparts and a black eye stripe.

Most nuthatches breed in the temperate or montane woodlands of the Northern Hemisphere, although two species have adapted to rocky habitats in the warmer and drier regions of Eurasia. However, the greatest diversity is in Southern Asia, and similarities between the species have made it difficult to identify distinct species. All members of this genus nest in holes or crevices. Most species are non-migratory and live in their habitat year-round, although the North American red-breasted nuthatch migrates to warmer regions during the winter. A few nuthatch species have restricted ranges and face threats from deforestation.

They are omnivorous, eating mostly insects, nuts and seeds. They forage for insects hidden in or under bark by climbing along tree trunks and branches, sometimes upside-down. They forage within their territories when breeding, but they may join mixed feeding flocks at other times. Their habit of wedging a large food item in a crevice and then hacking at it with their strong bills gives this group its English name.

Nuthatches are compact birds with short legs, compressed wings, and square 12-feathered tails. They have long, sturdy, pointed bills and strong toes with long claws. They have blue-grey backs (violet-blue in some Asian species, which also have red or yellow bills) and white underparts, which are variably tinted with buff, orange, rufous or lilac. Although head markings vary between species, a long black eye stripe, with contrasting white supercilium, dark forehead and blackish cap is common. The sexes look similar, but may differ in underpart colouration, especially on the rear flanks and under the tail. Juveniles and first-year birds can be almost indistinguishable from adults.

The sizes of nuthatches vary, from the large Giant Nuthatch, at 195 mm and 36g to 47g to the small Brown-headed Nuthatch and the Pygmy Nuthatch, both around 100 mm in length and about 10g.

Nuthatches are very vocal, using an assortment of whistles, trills and calls. Their breeding songs tend to be simple and often identical to their contact calls but longer in duration. The Red-breasted Nuthatch, which coexists with the Black-capped Chickadee throughout much of its range, is able to understand the latter species' calls. The chickadee has subtle call variations that communicate information about the size and risk of potential predators. Many birds recognise the simple alarm calls produced by other species, but the Red-breasted Nuthatch is able to interpret the chickadees' detailed variations and to respond appropriately.

The species diversity for Sittidae is greatest in southern Asia (possibly the original home of this family), where about 15 species occur, but it has representatives across much of the Northern Hemisphere. There are 28 species of Nuthatches in the family Sittidae; they are:

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Siberian Nuthatch Sitta arctica
Chestnut-vented Nuthatch Sitta nagaensis
Kashmir Nuthatch Sitta cashmirensis
Indian Nuthatch Sitta castanea
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta cinnamoventris
Burmese Nuthatch Sitta neglecta
White-tailed Nuthatch Sitta himalayensis
White-browed Nuthatch Sitta victoriae
Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygmaea
Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla
Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi
Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti
Krüper's Nuthatch Sitta krueperi
Yunnan Nuthatch Sitta yunnanensis
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa
White-cheeked Nuthatch Sitta leucopsis
Przevalski's Nuthatch Sitta przewalskii
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Western Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer
Eastern Rock Nuthatch Sitta tephronota
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis
Yellow-billed Nuthatch Sitta solangiae
Sulphur-billed Nuthatch Sitta oenochlamys
Blue Nuthatch Sitta azurea
Giant Nuthatch Sitta magna
Beautiful Nuthatch Sitta formosa

Family Links

Nuthatches Sittidae

Family Account

Nuthatches are a small family of tree-bark specialists found throughout the Holarctic. The are well-known for their habit of foraging head downwards, searching the bark on tree trunks and large limbs. They can easily cling upside down as they search for insects, grubs, and seeds. It is a familiar posture, as shown by this White-breasted Nuthatch (left). All the nuthatches are similar in shape and behavior, and "once one is familiar with one species, all the others will be instantly recognized as nuthatches" (Harrap & Quinn 1995). Indeed, they are all assigned to a single genus (Sitta). The body is small and compact…

Nuthatches Sittidae

Cornell Family Account

Nuthatches Sittidae

BTO Family Account

The nuthatches are a small family of birds, which share a distinctive mode of movement, running down trees or rock faces - headfirst; they rarely run back up though.

Nuthatches Sittidae

HBW Family Account

Nuthatches Sittidae

Family Account

The nuthatches constitute a genus, Sitta, of small passerine birds belonging to the family Sittidae.

Species Links

Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti

BirdLife Species Account

Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti

Species Account

The Algerian nuthatch (Sitta ledanti) is a small passerine bird which is the only bird species endemic to Algeria, where it is also the only nuthatch.

Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti

Species Account

Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Sitta ledanti Vielliard, 1976, Djebel Babor, Algeria. A member of a species group that contains also S. whiteheadi, S. krueperi, S. villosa, S. yunnanensis and S. canadensis, and all sometimes thought to form a superspecies. Differs from others of group in being slightly larger and less restricted to coniferous forest. Recent evidence from mitochondrial DNA suggests that its closest relative is S. krueperi, with S. whiteheadi, S. villosa and S. canadensis more distantly related (no S. yunnanensis material was available for analysis). Monotypic.

Algerian Nuthatch Sitta ledanti

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Blue Nuthatch Sitta azurea

Species Account

Image and references etc…

Blue Nuthatch Sitta azurea

Species Account

The blue nuthatch (Sitta azurea) is a species of bird in the family Sittidae. It is a medium-sized nuthatch, measuring 13.5 cm (5.3 in) in length.

Blue Nuthatch Sitta azurea

BirdLife Species Account

Blue Nuthatch Sitta azurea

HBW Species Account

Blue Nuthatch Sitta azurea

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla

Cornell Species Account

One of the few birds found almost exclusively in the United States, the Brown-headed Nuthatch is restricted to the pine forests of the southeastern states. A small but declining population is also found in the Bahamas.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla

Species Account

The brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) is a small songbird found in pine forests throughout the Southeastern United States.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla

BirdLife Species Account

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Sitta pusilla Latham, 1790, Carolina, Jamaica = South Carolina, USA.

Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi

Species Account

The Corsican nuthatch (Sitta whiteheadi) is a small passerine bird that is endemic to Corsica, where it is the only nuthatch. It is restricted to mature stands of Corsican pine (Pinus nigra spp. laricio) which grow at altitudes of from 800 to 1,600 m (2,600 to 5,200 ft).

Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi

BirdLife Species Account

Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Sitta whiteheadi Sharpe, 1884, mountains of Corsica.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Species Account

The Eurasian nuthatch or wood nuthatch (Sitta europaea) is a small passerine bird found throughout temperate Asia and in Europe, where its name is the nuthatch.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Species Account

Images, sound recordings and references…

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea

RSPB Species Account

The nuthatch is a plump bird about the size of a great tit that resembles a small woodpecker.

Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygnaea

Species Account

Small bird with long slender bill; brownish-gray back and wings; dark brown cap; light front and lower cheek (not including eye region); forages by probing on bark of tree branches, often in small groups…

Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygnaea

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Sitta pygmaea Vigors, 1839, Monterey, California, USA.

Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygnaea

BirdLife Species Account

Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygnaea

Cornell Species Account

Small even by nuthatch standards, Pygmy Nuthatches are tiny bundles of hyperactive energy that climb up and down ponderosa pines giving rubber-ducky calls to their flockmates.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis

Cornell Species Account

An intense bundle of energy at your feeder, Red-breasted Nuthatches are tiny, active birds of north woods and western mountains. These long-billed, short-tailed songbirds travel through tree canopies with chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers but stick to tree trunks and branches, where they search bark furrows for hidden insects.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis

BirdLife Species Account

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis

HBW Species Account

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis

Species Account

The red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) is a small songbird. The adult has blue-grey upperparts with cinnamon underparts, a white throat and face with a black stripe through the eyes, a straight grey bill and a black crown.

Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer

Image

Images & notes…

Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer

Species Account

Image and sound recordings…

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis

Species Account

Sound recording and references…

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis

Species Account

The velvet-fronted nuthatch (Sitta frontalis) is a small passerine bird found in southern Asia from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka east to south China and Indonesia. It is a member of the nuthatch family Sittidae.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Western Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer

Species Account

The western rock nuthatch (Sitta neumayer) (sometimes known simply as rock nuthatch) is a small passerine bird which breeds from Croatia east through Greece and Turkey to Iran. This nuthatch is largely resident apart from some post-breeding dispersal. The eastern rock nuthatch Sitta tephronota is a separate species, which occurs further east in south-central Asia.

Western Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

Species Account

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.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

Species Account

John Audubon's original account and image…

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Sitta carolinensis Latham, 1790, in America, Jamaica = South Carolina, USA.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

Cornell Species Account

A common feeder bird with clean black, gray, and white markings, White-breasted Nuthatches are active, agile little birds with an appetite for insects and large, meaty seeds.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 28

Photographers & Artists

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla

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Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta castanea

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Chestnut-vented Nuthatch Sitta nagaensis

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Images

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea

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Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea

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Giant Nuthatch Sitta magna

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Krüpers Nuthatch Sitta krueperi

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Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis

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