brown headed nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

(Sitta pusilla)

By: Karen Henman

Upon moving to the Southeastern part of the United States, I began searching out species of birds that were not in my native Indiana.  One such species was the Brown-headed Nuthatch.  During my first winter here back in 2011, my daughter Kathryn and I traveled to Jekyll Island, off the coast of SE Georgia.  We had walked numerous paths throughout the island and I had not spotted any Brown-headed Nuthatch.  Finally, in exasperation, I played the call of them from my birding app in a likely location.  Much to my surprise, a couple of birds immediately responded and hopped about in a large pine tree not far from the board walk on the north end of the island.  We were delighted to get a few looks at this bird that tends to feed in the high tops of mature pine trees.

Since that time I have moved to a location along Army Corp Engineer property near Gainesville, Georgia.  With numerous large pine trees near my house I have been lucky to have Brown-headed Nuthatches appear regularly at my feeders.  They will come into gather my my sunflower seeds.  They may even be caching some of the seed in nearby larders they have created for themselves.   

One delightful feature of this bird is that its call sounds similar to a small dogs squeaky toy.  Once you hear it, it is easily recognizable.  Here’s a link to a Youtube video so you can witness how cute they are and hear their adorable calls:

One key to locating this bird is that it requires large pine tree since they forage for pine seeds.  They also eat small insects and spiders and have been known to forage up and down tree trunks and branches in search of insects.   Their behavior is similar to other nuthatches in that they can travel upside down on trees, limbs, and branches.

Visually the Brown-headed Nuthatch has a brown crown on its head that extends down to the eye.  The underside of the bird is pale buffy and grayish.  They are the same length as the Red-breasted Nuthatch, but their wings are shorter.

The range of the Brown-headed Nuthatch extends from southern Maryland through to central Mississippi. Then you have to jump over into Central Louisiana and Arkansas where their range then continues on in to the far eastern part of Texas and Oklahoma.  Currently the population is stable and there is little concern for their numbers.  But it is noted that without the pine forests, this bird is easily lost when the pine trees are removed.  They are truly dependent upon them.  Here’s in the south, some land owners see the pine forests as a soft wood and not a desirable.  Therefore, there is a tendency among some to remove the pines in favor of the hardwoods.  This practice is not recommended if you want to support populations of Brown-headed Nuthatches.

For more information, please go to All About Birds or enjoy free access to Birds of the World with an Indiana Audubon membership.

Cover Photo: Brown-headed Nuthatch by Ryan Sanderson


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