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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Sitta canadensis

Length: 4.5 inches Wingspan: 8 inches Seasonality: Winter / All Seasons
ID Keys: Size, Black eyestripe, white eyebrow, pale rusty orange underparts

Red-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatches are a very tame winter visitor to home feeders in South Dakota, although they can also be found year-round in the Black Hills.  They will often ignore a human presence just a few feet away as they visit a feeder.  Winter numbers vary greatly from year to year.  They can migrate very early in the fall, often already arriving by September (as with the bird in the photo to the right).


Nearly always found in conifer-dominated forests during the nesting season.  They will utilize all forest habitats during migration and in winter, and are also often found in urban settings.


Red-breasted Nuthatch primarily eat insects and other small invertebrates in the summer months. During the winter months, most of their diet typically consists of the seeds of conifer trees..


Feeds by clambering along the trunks and branches of trees.  They will use crevices in tree bark as a seed cache, storing seeds for later retrieval. 


May through July. Red-breasted Nuthatch are cavity nesters, and they are one of the few non-woodpecker species to excavate their own cavity. Females do most of the nest site excavation, helped some by the male, who also may bring food to the female while she excavates. They typically build cavities in aspen or other trees with a wood that's easier to remove, and usually in a dead tree or dead part of a tree. Once excavation is complete, a base in constructed in the bottom of the cavity, consisting of grasses, bits of bark, moss, feathers, or other material. The entrance to the nest and the inside opening are typically coated with pine resin. The purpose is unknown, but it's thought to potentially deter predators and/or reduce insect pests.  The female lays between 3 and 7 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after 12-14 days, and fledge from the nest 16-20 days after hatching.

Song / Calls:

The most often heard vocalization of a Red-breasted Nuthatches is a nasal, tin-horn sounding yank-yank-yank call, which can vary in speed and length. Single yank notes may be given, or longer series may be given.


Red-breasted Nuthatches are permanent residents in much of Canada and the mountains of the western United States.  Numbers and distribution in the rest of the United States vary greatly in winter from year to year.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Red-breasted Nuthatch sightings

Similar Species to Red-breasted Nuthatch:

There are two other nuthatch species in South Dakota, and another in the southeastern US that could potentially be confused with the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

White-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta carolinensis White-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta carolinensis  Pygmy Nuthatch - Sitta pygmaea  Brown-headed Nuthatch - Sitta pusilla 
White-breasted Nuthatch White-breasted Nuthatch Pygmy Nuthatch Brown-headed Nuthatch


 Red-breasted Nuthatch will come to feeders for sunflower seeds, various nuts, and suet.

Conservation Status:

Systematic surveys over the last few decades have shown substantial increases in populations of Red-breasted Nuthatch. They are found across a very broad geographic range, and they are common in many parts of that range. The IUCN considers the Red-breasted Nuthatch to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

 September 23rd, 2018 - Newton Hills State Park - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Red-breasted Nuthatch photos.

AAudio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Red-breasted Nuthatch - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common permanent resident in the Black Hills.  Uncommon and local permanent resident in other pine forests of the extreme western part of the state.  Uncommon to common winter visitor in the rest of the state.

Additional Red-breasted Nuthatch Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 2 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 3 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 4 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 5 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 6 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 7 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 8 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 9 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 10 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 11 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 12 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 13 - Sitta canadensisRed-breasted Nuthatch 14 - Sitta canadensis