White-Breasted Nuthatch

Sitta carolinensis
Range Map

We often see these birds with their heads and bills slightly raised. Often they pose from seemingly impossible perches. Few birds are as recognizable in profile as the White-Breasted Nuthatch. These birds creep along trunks and large branches, usually with head downward. We find them across most of the USA, plus parts of Mexico and Canada. Their Red-Breasted cousins often excavate their own nest holes. But these birds prefer to exploit the hard work of other birds, using abandoned cavities to raise their young.

Breeding pairs will spend time together year-round and often mate for life. Science once believed these birds were conspecific to the White-Cheeked Nuthatch of the Himalayas, but studies have shown this is not the case.

Today, modern science recognises nine subspecies of White-Breasted Nuthatch:

  • S. c. carolinensis lives in Canada from Alberta to the Maritime Provinces, and in eastern USA from the Dakotas south to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • S. c. tenuissima lives in Southwest Canada and south to the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of California.
  • S. c. oberholseri lives in Big Bend (Texas) and northeastern Mexico.
  • S. c. nelsoni lives in the Rocky Mountains of the USA and south to the Guadalupe and Davis Mountains of west Texas, western Oklahoma, and northern Mexico.
  • S. c. kinneari lives in southern Mexico.
  • S. c. mexicana lives in western mountains of Mexico.
  • S. c. lagunae lives in southern Baja California (Mexico).
  • S. c. aculeata lives in western Washington and Oregon, through California south to northern Mexico.
  • S. c. alexandrae lives in northern Baja California (Mexico).

I have enjoyed the company of these birds near my southern California home (elevation 500 feet) and nearby mountains. More typical habitats at 8,000 feet, I have met them in Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico.

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