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Birds of the St. Croix River Valley: Minnesota and Wisconsin



White-breasted Nuthatch -- Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Status: Regular permanent resident.

Distribution: Fairly common permanent resident throughout the Valley, decreasing in abundance northward. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 5) suggest that breeding white-breasted nuthatches occur in largest numbers in the Central Plain, becoming much less numerous in the heavily forested Northern Highland. Bernard (1967), however, considered this species common in Douglas County. Goddard (1972) reported a breeding season density of 14.7 pairs per 40 ha along the Kinnickinnic River, Pierce County.

Winter: Common winter resident in the Western Upland, fairly common in the Central Plain, and uncommon in the Northern Highland. Christmas Bird Count data (Table 4) show a rapid decrease in relative abundance moving northward through the Valley. Densities in birds per party hour are nearly 10 times greater on the Afton Count (Western Upland) than on the Solon Springs Count (Northern Highland).

Habitat: Primarily a species of various deciduous forest communities including Southern Deciduous Forest, Lowland Deciduous Forest, and Northern Hardwood Forest. Rarely encountered during the breeding season in pure coniferous forest. Although nests are frequently placed in coniferous trees (primarily white pine), breeding pairs are usually associated with extensive mixed deciduous-coniferous forest. Breeding pairs regularly use large deciduous trees in residential areas. Residential feeding stations are important during winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

Status: Regular migrant, nesting species, and winter resident.

Migration: An irruptive species, usually an uncommon migrant throughout the Valley. During years of peak migration, red-breasted nuthatches are common to locally abundant, primarily in the Northern Highland and Central Plain. In years when this species stages a major population influx, the first migrants may arrive by 15 July and build gradually to a 20 September to 15 October peak. Fall migrants arrive in the Central Plain and Western Upland during late August (earliest-19 August 1970, Washington County). Peak fall abundance occurs 1 October to 15 November. Peak spring migration occurs 15 March to 15 April and most have departed nonbreeding areas by 15 May.

Nesting Season Distribution: Green and Janssen (1975) reported that nests or family groups were observed in Washington County. These authors showed that the breeding range of the red-breasted nuthatch included all three Minnesota counties. There are no known breeding records for the Wisconsin counties. Nesting season adults are rare in the Central Plain and uncommon in the Northern Highland. Breeding Bird Survey data (Table 5) suggest that this nuthatch is uncommon in southern Douglas County and throughout Pine County.

Winter: Uncommon to rare and irregular winter resident in the Western Upland, uncommon in the Central Plain, and fairly common in the Northern Highland (Table 4). The occasional winter irruptions are considered to be related to the failure of the pinecone crop in northern nesting regions. Young's (1965) analysis of winter red-breasted nuthatch distribution in Wisconsin suggests that largest densities occur north of the Tension Zone.

Habitat: During the nesting season, the red-breasted nuthatch is characteristic of Lowland Coniferous Forest that supports black spruce, tamarack, and yellow birch in the overstory. Occasional breeding pairs are also recorded in Black Spruce-Tamarack Bogs, and in Northern Hardwood Forest that exhibits a mixture of coniferous and deciduous tree species. Winter habitat use is similar to that of the nesting season in the Northern Highland and Central Plain. Wintering red-breasted nuthatches in the Western Upland make extensive use of Pine Plantations. Ornamental conifers associated with feeding stations in residential areas also receive use during the winter.

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