Brown-Headed Nuthatch

brown headed nuthatch perched on the side of a tree with a spider in its beak
Brown-headed nuthatch carrying a spider

NPS Photo / Jeremy Stringfield

Sitta pusilla

Brown-headed nuthatches are found throughout the coastal states of the southeastern United States from North Carolina to Texas. These birds frequently inhabit pine forests because they rely on pine trees for everything from food to shelter.

Brown-headed nuthatches eat a combination of seeds and insects. In the winter, when insect life is more subdued, they rely more on seeds such as pine seeds. In warmer months, when insect life is abundant, they tend to eat more insects. They are frequently observed foraging for insects and can sometimes be seen using pieces of bark as tools to pry up new bark that may be hiding insects!

Brown-headed nuthatches build their nests in cavities in dead trees, using pine trees most often. The male and female will work together to clear out the cavities and build a comfortable nest suitable for their eggs. Females will lay an average of four to six eggs in the nest. The female will incubate the eggs while the male brings her food. Both will help feed the chicks once they have hatched. The chicks leave the nest about three weeks after hatching. Most adults will only hatch one clutch of eggs per year.

Cox, J. A., & Slater, G. L. (2007). Cooperative breeding in the Brown-headed Nuthatch. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 119(1), 1-8.

Cusick, J. A., de Villa, M., DuVal, E. H., & Cox, J. A. (2018). How do helpers help? Helper contributions throughout the nesting cycle in the cooperatively breeding brown-headed nuthatch. Behavioral ecology and sociobiology, 72(3), 1-13.

Han, K. L., Cox, J. A., & Kimball, R. T. (2015). Uncommon levels of relatedness and parentage in a cooperatively breeding bird, the brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla). The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 127(4), 593-600.

O’Halloran, K. A., & Conner, R. N. (1987). Habitat used by Brown-headed Nuthatches. Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society, 20(1), 7-13.

Last updated: April 21, 2021

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