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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Red-breasted Nuthatch -- Sitta canadensis

RANGE: Breeds from south-coastal and southeastern Alaska, southern Yukon, central Manitoba, and Newfoundland south to southern California, central and southeastern Arizona, central Colorado, Wyoming, southwestern North Dakota, southern Manitoba, southern Michigan, and north-central Ohio; in the Appalachian Mountains to eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina; and south to southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and southern New York. Winters throughout most of the breeding range except at the higher latitudes and elevations, irregularly south to Baja California, southern Arizona, southern Texas, and central Florida.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Prefers coniferous forests, but sometimes occurs in mixed and deciduous woodlands.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Cavities in trees with a minimum dbh of 12 inches for nest sites, or soft dead wood for cavity excavation.

NEST: Generally uses natural cavities or woodpecker holes for nesting, but can excavate its own cavity in rotted stubs or dead branches. Typically locates nest 15 feet above the ground, but sometimes from 5 to 40 feet. Smears pitch below or around the entrance hole, even when the nest is in a deciduous tree or nest box.

FOOD: Pries open conifer cone scales and removes seeds for much of its food. Also feeds on spiders and some insects.

REFERENCES: Bent 1948, deKiriline 1952, Forbush and May 1955, Terres 1980, Thomas et al. 1979.

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