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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Above: Red-breasted Nuthatch perched (photo by Bob Shettler)

What Does It Look Like?

Males and females are similar but males are usually more boldly coloured.  This small, compact species is blue-grey on the upperparts with a warm cinnamon colour in the ventral area.  The cap of the head is dark, and a black line transects the eye.  The cheek is white, as is the “eyebrow”.  The bill is rather pointed.

Does It Migrate?

Red-breasted Nuthatches at the northernmost locations migrate southward for winter; individuals at lower lattitudes may undertake short-range southward movements based on food availability (cones/feeder availability). Some may remain year-round. 

Above: Red-breasted nuthatch (photo by Peter Taylor)

Where Does It Live?

These lively birds breed in coniferous forests (spruce, fir, pine, tamarack, cedar) but eastern populations favour deciduous forests.  Found across Canada into southern Alaska and south through western United States.  A map of the breeding range in Manitoba may be found here Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas - Atlas des oiseaux nicheurs du Manitoba

Where Can I See It?

During migration (spring and fall), we are often alerted to the presence of these birds by their squeeky, high-pitched vocalizations.  In the city, check visible feeders (seed or suet) in residential areas, particularly if coniferous trees are present; also parks and treed gardens.  In the winter, Red-breasted Nuthatches may be looked for in wooded areas at Victoria Beach, Gull Lake, Spruce Woods and Whiteshell provincial parks and Riding Mountain National Park.  

Above: Red-breasted nuthatch (photo by Peter Taylor)


Central and eastern breeding populations, which includes those in Manitoba, appear relatively stable according to Breeding Bird Atlas data.  Northwestern populations, however, are not faring as well. 

Did You Know?

A recent study determined that Red-breasted Nuthatches are able to descriminate between the alarm calls of Black-capped Chickadees and can determine the size and level of threat posed by predators from these calls.  Like chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches use a technique called “mobbing” to discourage predator presence, a physically taxing behaviour particularly when food is not plentiful.  Understanding the alarm calls of chickadees allows Red-breasted Nuthatches to only “mob” predators that are deemed the most dangerous to themselves, thus saving energy!

See: “Nuthatches eavesdrop on variations in heterospecific chickadee mobbing alarm calls” by Christopher N. Templeton and Erick Greene