Wildlife - Species

Brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla)

Brown-headed Nuthatch, by Liz Odum
Photo by Liz Odum


The Brown-headed nuthatch is a small bird, barely 4 1/2 inches in length. The back and wings are a blueish gray, breast is white and there is a characteristic brown cap on this bird’s head. A small white spot on the nape is also a definitive field mark. The bill is strong and pointed like that of a woodpecker. Males and females are similar. Nuthatches often climb headfirst down tree trunks.


Brown-headed nuthatches give a variety of calls, but most common is a high-pitched, squeaky call repeated rapidly and continuously. It is said to sound like a rubber ducky being squeezed. See Bird-Sounds.net for recordings of 602 species of bird calls in the U.S. and Canada. There are also a number of apps available that will identify bird sounds.

Habitat and Food

This is one of the few avian species that resides almost entirely in the U.S., and is a year-round resident in the southeastern states. Preferred habitat is open pine forests, especially where frequent burning occurs. Nuthatches forage on a high volume of insects using the woodpecker-like beak to pry off loose bark and search in cracks and crevices on tree trunks and limbs, sometimes appearing to use a piece of bark as a tool. They also consume seeds using the beak to open the seed coat. They are a frequent visitor at bird feeders.


Nuthatches nest in cavities in trees, usually dead snags. They will also utilize nest boxes. Brown-headed Nuthatches lay 3-9 eggs in a clutch and have only 1 brood in a breeding season. They tend to group together in small flocks and extra birds may help the nesting pair.


Amy Tegeler – Bird Conservation Coordinator

P.O. Box 23205
Columbia, SC 29224
Phone: (803) 521-2119

E-mail: TegelerA@dnr.sc.gov