The red-breasted nuthatch is a frenetic and crafty little bird. Its stout body with a cinnamon breast and black eye stripe distinguish it from the white-breasted nuthatch.
These birds are obligate cavity nesters and tend to prefer living near conifer trees in forested habitat. The clever birds will defend their cavities by taking resin from surrounding conifers and pasting it around the entrance to their nest, even using chips of wood as a tool to paste the resin. This defense is thought to deter predators and competitors from entering the hole, while the nuthatch, aware of this defense, deftly squeezes its uniquely shaped body into the cavity.
When feeding, red-breasted nuthatches occasionally have bigger eyes than beaks, but the birds will take large food items like nuts and seeds and wedge them into bark where they hammer them open. Their diet consists of insects during the summer months, and switches to seeds and nuts during the dormant season.
Red-breasted nuthatches prey upon the spruce budworm and can experience population irruptions when this pest decimates spruce forests of the north. During winter, the birds will sometimes store food in the crevasses of a pine tree and cover this food with another piece of bark for nutrition over a long winter.
You can find red-breasted nuthatches at Faville Grove Sanctuary around conifer plantations along our wooded areas. Many of these conifer plantations in southern Wisconsin are reaching 100 years of age, and are subsequently being cleared. However, red-breasted nuthatches in the eastern United States will use deciduous woods, and the the birds seem to prefer nesting in aspen trees, as the wood is much softer and thus easier to excavate.
Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward