Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Sitta canadensis
Range Map

Once known as the Canada Nuthatch or Red-Bellied Nuthatch, we find Red-Breasted Nuthatches across North America’s sub-alpine conifer forests. In winter, these birds earn their “nuthatch” moniker, eating mainly seeds. When a seed is too large to consume, they will place it in a crevice and hammer on it with their bill to break it into manageable pieces. However, when nesting and raising their young, insect prey is their primary food source.

This bird was first described to Western Science by a French zoologist in 1760 from a specimen collected in Canada. The common name has changed over the years since, but the scientific name (Sitta canadensis) has stuck. Given the many changes in taxonomic nomenclature seemingly in fashion over the years for family, genus and species classifications, this is a remarkable fact.

I’ve enjoyed meeting Red-Breasted Nuthatches in Canada, and several western states, including in my southern California yard and nearby mountains, the eastern Sierra-Nevada Mountains, in Oregon and in Wyoming. I enjoy hearing the calls of these birds, which are reminiscent of toy horns.

Despite their wide range, science views these birds as monotypic (i.e. there are no recognised subspecies).

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