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Songbirds of North Dakota


Family Sittidae

Nuthatches belong to the family Sittidae which is taken from the Greek word Sitte, which is used to describe a bird that pecks at the bark of trees. There are 4 North American species which are the only tree-trunk foraging birds that regularly feed moving head-first down a tree. The nuthatches have short legs and strong toes with sharp claws that enable them to cling to the bark of trees. Members of this family which can be seen in North Dakota are the red-breasted nuthatch and white-breasted nuthatch.

White-Breasted Nuthatch
Sitta carolinensis

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

The white-breasted nuthatch is one of two nuthatches which can be seen in North Dakota. It is a year-round resident, whereas the red-breasted nuthatch is only a winter resident (not pictured). The white-breasted nuthatch is 5-6 inches long with a wingspan of 10 inches. It has a black cap like the chickadee, white face, throat, and breast, bluish-gray shoulders and back, and a light shade of orange on the flanks. Nuthatches spend most of their time in large trees or woodlots eating insects in the spring and summer and nuts such as acorns and sunflowers in the fall and winter.

They nest in natural tree cavities at least 15 feet above the ground and lay 5-8 white eggs marked with brown, red, purple, or gray. They can be picked out easily among other birds because of their acrobatic-like climbing ability which takes them up, down, and around tree trunks. They can be attracted to bird feeders with black oil sunflower seed and suet.

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