Brown-headed Nuthatches

Two little Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered as they explored the top part of a dead pine snag this morning. The snag has lost most of its bark so its surface is bare and pocked with holes and cracks of different shapes and sizes. There’s one hole larger than most, very near the jagged, broken-off top, and I watched as one of the nuthatches hopped inside this hole, and then I heard tapping that went on for several moments. The other nuthatch stayed nearby, searching over the top part of the snag, and the two called in squeaky, cheerful-sounding notes, back and forth.

Brown-headed Nuthatches are very small birds with short tails and long bills, a blue-gray back, brown cap, and white throat and breast. Lively and active, they are found most of the time in pine trees. They stay in touch with notes that sound like squeaky toys as they move quickly up, down and sideways over trunks and branches and in clumps of pine needles, searching for insects and spiders. 

Brown-headed Nuthatches are closely associated with southeastern pine forests, usually found in areas where pines are the dominant trees. They need standing dead trees for nesting and roosting, and mostly search for food in living trees. We’re lucky to have them here in our neighborhood, in patchy woods that are a mix of hardwoods and pines. Over the past two decades, many of the pines have died or been removed, so there are fewer than there used to be. But the nuthatches still have stayed around, so far, so maybe there are enough pines and snags to provide what they need. They are year-round residents here, and some stay in the same territories for years. They often come to our feeders in the winter – and in some summers they have come regularly to our hummingbird feeder with a water moat in the middle, to drink from the moat. 

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