What kinds of nuthatches can you find in California?
Nuthatches are incredibly unique birds and a lot of fun to see in your backyard.
Luckily, they are relatively easy to identify. Nuthatches are known to forage on trees at any angle or orientation and are most commonly seen climbing down trees HEAD first.
If you’re lucky, you may even see a nuthatch demonstrating this behavior at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
Did you know 3 types of nuthatches live in California?
#1. White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatches are common visitors in California to backyard bird feeders. Look for a compact bird with no neck, a short tail, and a long pointy bill. Color-wise, they have distinctive white cheeks and chest, along with a blue-gray back.
Both sexes look the same, except that males have a black cap on the top of their heads, where females display a lighter, more gray crown.
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
Look for these nuthatches in California in deciduous forests. But they adapt well to the presence of humans and are often seen at parks, cemeteries, and wooded backyards.
Do you want to attract White-breasted Nuthatches?
If so, it’s not incredibly difficult. While these birds enjoy eating large, juicy insects when available, they readily visit bird feeders to supplement their diet. Their favorite foods include sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower seeds, and mealworms. Choose high-quality food and try to avoid mixes that contain milo or other grains, which won’t be eaten by nuthatches (or most other songbirds).
To attract White-breasted Nuthatches, you can also hang a nest box. These birds use natural cavities, or ones created by woodpeckers, to nest inside and raise their young. They are unable to excavate their own hole, so providing an appropriately sized birdhouse is incredibly helpful.
- RELATED: 13 FREE Birdhouse Plans – Easy PDF/Video Instructions! (Includes info about what nuthatches need.)
What sounds do White-breasted Nuthatches make?
These birds are incredibly vocal AND make distinctive noises that are relatively easy to identify!
First, in late winter and spring, males sing a nasally, rapid “wha-wha-wha” song that lasts around 2-3 seconds. (Press PLAY above to hear an example)
But you are most likely to hear a “yank” call, which is given at any time of year. This loud and distinctive noise is often repeated several times in a row. (Press PLAY to listen above)
Do you know how nuthatches got their name?
These birds commonly jam acorns and nuts into tree bark. From there, they hammer the food with their sharp bills to “hatch” out the seed!
#2. Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatches are active little songbirds that have beautiful coloring. Look for compact birds that have almost no neck and a very short tail.
They have a black crown and two distinctive eyelines, one which is white and the other black. Lastly, their back is a gorgeous blue-gray, while the belly features a cinnamon coloring. Both sexes look the same, except that females have duller heads and paler underparts.
Red-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
These small nuthatches breed in Canada, the western mountains, and the upper northeast. But during winter, they can truly show up almost anywhere. These birds travel where needed to make sure they have enough food. In some years, they have been seen as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Mexico!
Red-breasted Nuthatches are mostly found in California in coniferous forests. Their preferred habitat contrasts sharply to White-breasted Nuthatches, who prefer living in deciduous forests.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are common visitors to bird feeders!
Watch a Red-breasted Nuthatch in my backyard!
To attract these energetic birds, just put out a fresh supply of sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet! Because of their acrobatic ability and small size, they can use almost every type of bird feeder.
Have you ever heard a tin horn while in the woods?
If so, you were probably listening to a Red-breasted Nuthatch! These birds make a fast series of nasally “yank-yank-yank” sounds, which have been compared to the sound that a toy tin horn makes. These calls are typically made by males that are still looking for a mate.
Lastly, they have a unique way of defending their nest cavity from predators. Both males and females apply conifer tree resin to the entrance hole. This extremely sticky substance is thought to help keep predators from entering!
#3. Pygmy Nuthatch
These tiny birds are incredibly active and described as little bundles of energy!
Pygmy Nuthatch Range Map
You can find Pygmy Nuthatches in California in long-needled pine forests, especially Ponderosa Pines. They are most common in areas that have avoided heavy logging since they rely upon older trees with cavities to raise their young.
Pygmy Nuthatches are extremely social birds and known as cooperative breeders. Many breeding pairs get help from other males, which are commonly the females’ sons from prior years! These “helper” birds assist with defending the nest and feeding the incubating female and hatchlings.
These birds travel together often, and they almost always roost together. One biologist observed as many as 100 gather together in the same cavity!
What sounds do Pygmy Nuthatches make?
The most common call you will hear is described as a noisy, rapid “tee-dee, tee-dee.”
Which types of nuthatches have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!
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The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!
To learn more about birds in California, check out these other guides: