There are nine identified subspecies of white-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) in North America. These subspecies are categorized into three general groups, and some believe these three groups should be considered separate species. Forget that, I am content to call this cute little acrobat a white-breasted nuthatch.
White breasted nuthatches are grey-blue on the back with a white face and underparts and a chestnut wash on the lower belly and under the tail. They have a black crown and nape, very short tail and long, narrow bill. Females are duller than males.
Usually associated with mature deciduous or conifer woods, white-breasted nuthatches are extremely agile and creep up, down and around tree trunks and branches in search of insects or seeds, their main diet. Occasionally white-breasted nuthatches will eat cultivated crops, such as corn. They also frequent bird feeders.
White-breasted nuthatches often hide or cache food. They usually place a single morsel under loose bark or in a crack and cover it with bark, lichen, moss or other camouflage.
A nuthatch will wedge a seed into a crack or crevice in bark and pound on it with its bill to release the meat. This behavior is called “hacking”; perhaps “hatch” in its name is a corruption of the nuthatch’s hacking. Another explanation of the name is that the pounding “hatches” out the seed. Either derivation of the common name sounds acceptable to me.
White-breasted nuthatches are monogamous. The female builds a nest in a natural cavity or abandoned woodpecker hole, often reusing the site in subsequent years. Unlike their cousins, the red-breasted nuthatches (see “Red-breasted Nuthatch” and “Nesting Red-breasted Nuthatch”), white-breasted nuthatches rarely excavate their own hole.
Generally white-breasted nuthatches are not strongly migratory.
Leonard and I enjoyed watching the antics of these white-breasted nuthatches near the Christie Day Use Area at Eagle Lake (Lassen County CA).