Overview

Brief Summary

Sitta canadensis

A small (4 ½ inches) nuthatch, the male Red-breasted Nuthatch is most easily identified by its gray body, red breast, and black head with conspicuous white eye-stripes. Female Red-breasted Nuthatches are similar to males, but are duller and paler on the head and breast. This species may be separated from the similarly-sized Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) by that species’ brown head and white breast. The Red-breasted Nuthatch mainly occurs across southern Alaska and south-central Canada. This species’ range extends southward at higher elevations into the United States as far south as southern Arizona in the west and North Carolina in the east. The Red-breasted Nuthatch is mostly non-migratory, although small numbers may move south of this species’ main range in winters when food is scarce further north. Red-breasted Nuthatches primarily inhabit northern and high-mountain evergreen forests. At the southern end of this species’ range, particularly in the east, this species may also be found in mixed evergreen-deciduous woodland. Red-breasted Nuthatches mainly eat cone seeds, although small insects play a fairly large role in this species’ diet during the warmer months. In appropriate habitat, Red-breasted Nuthatches may be seen climbing headfirst up or down tree trunks while foraging for food. More often, it is this species’ tooting “ank” calls which alert birdwatchers to its presence. Red-breasted Nuthatches are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least concern

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Distribution

Sitta canadensis is native throughout the Nearctic region. It is the only migratory species in the family Sittidae. Its northern breeding range includes southeast Alaska, southern Yukon, southeast Mackenzie Valley, central Quebec, and Newfoundland in Canada. In the United States it breeds from central Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan, and the southern Oregon border to northern California. On the east coast S. canadensis breeds from southern New York through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. It migrates irregularly to southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Florida to the Gulf Coast.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of Northern American Birds. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.
  • Terres, J. 1982. The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Random House Inc.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: BREEDS: southern Alaska to northern Saskatchewan and Labrador, south to southern California, southern New Mexico, western South Dakota, southern Saskatchewan, Minnesota, northern Ohio, New Jersey, and southern Appalachians; also in isolated areas to south. WINTERS: throughout most of breeding range, irregularly to Gulf Coast.

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Geographic Range

Red-breasted nuthatches are native throughout the Nearctic region. They are the only species in the family Sittidae that migrates. The breeding range of red-breasted nuthatches ranges from southern Alaska and Canada to northern California, and as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina on the east coast of the United States. Red-breasted nuthatches winter in southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, northern Florida and on the Gulf Coast.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of Northern American Birds. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.
  • Terres, J. 1982. The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Random House Inc.
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Range

Coniferous forests of North America.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Physical Description

Morphology

Red-breasted nuthatches are small nuthatches with compact bodies, short tails and necks, and a long tapered bill. They have very sturdy toes and claws that allow them to climb down trees headfirst or to move along the undersides of branches with their back to the ground. They average 11.5 cm in length and have an average mass of 10 grams. This is the only North American nuthatch that has a broad black stripe through the eye and a white stripe above it. Other distinguishing characteristics include a black cap on the head, a bluish gray back, and an underside washed with a rusty red or brown color. The chin, cheeks, and sides of the neck are white and the tail is characterized by white bands and dark tips on the outer tail feathers. Their wings are long and pointed and have ten primary flight feathers.

There is little difference between the sexes, except the female has a bluish black cap and paler underparts. Juveniles are similar to adults, but their head markings and underparts are duller in color.

Average mass: 10 g.

Average length: 11.5 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male more colorful

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Average mass: 11.2 g.

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Physical Description

Red-breasted nuthatches are small nuthatches with compact bodies, short tails and necks, and a long tapered bill. They have very sturdy toes and claws that allow them to climb down trees headfirst or hang upside down from branches. They are about 11.5 cm long, and weigh about 10 grams.

Red-breasted nuthatches are the only North American nuthatches that have a broad black stripe over their eye, and a white stripe above it. They also have a black cap on their head, a bluish gray back, and a rusty colored underside. Red-breasted nuthatches have white on their chins, cheeks and sides of their neck. Their tail has white bands, and dark tips on the outer feathers. Their wings are long and pointed and have ten primary feathers.

Male and female red-breasted nuthatches look alike, except the female has a bluish black cap and paler underparts. Juveniles are similar to adults, but their head markings and underparts are duller in color.

Average mass: 10 g.

Average length: 11.5 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male more colorful

Average mass: 11.2 g.

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Size

Length: 11 cm

Weight: 10 grams

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Type Information

Type for Sitta canadensis
Catalog Number: USNM 419620
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: Male;
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): T. Burleigh
Year Collected: 1951
Locality: Headquarters, Clearwater, Idaho, United States, North America
  • Type: Burleigh. April 1960. Auk. 77 (1): 212.
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Ecology

Habitat

Red-breasted nuthatches prefer mature, partly open coniferous or mixed conifer-deciduous stands for breeding. They favor stands that have a tall, dense canopy and a dense understory of saplings. This structure provides protection from unfavorable environmental conditions and predators, and provides a greater abundance of arthropods.

Researchers found that nuthatches prefer ponderosa pine and incense cedar, which both have a rough bark surface that supports a diversity of arthropods. Smooth bark species, such as black oak and white fir are not visited regularly by nuthatches.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban

  • Adams, E., M. Morrison. 1993. Effects of forest stand structure and composition on red-breasted nuthatches and brown creepers. Journal of Wildlife Management, 57(3): 616-633.
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Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Comments: Coniferous and mixed forest, aspen woodland; in migration and winter also in deciduous forest, open woodland, parks, scrub, and riparian woodland (AOU 1983). Nests usually in excavated cavity in tree stub or branch of dead tree, or dead top of live tree, also in abandoned woodpecker hole, natural cavity, or bird box; average of 4-5 m above ground.

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Red-breasted nuthatches prefer mature, partly open coniferous or mixed conifer-deciduous stands for breeding. They like stands that have a tall, dense canopy and a dense understory of saplings. The tall and short trees protect them from predators and provide a variety of foods.

Nuthatches prefer ponderosa pine and incense cedar, which both have rough bark. Rough bark provides habitat for arthropods, which the nuthatches eat. Nuthatches do not visit trees with smooth bark.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban

  • Adams, E., M. Morrison. 1993. Effects of forest stand structure and composition on red-breasted nuthatches and brown creepers. Journal of Wildlife Management, 57(3): 616-633.
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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Red-breasted nuthatches' diet consists of pine, spruce, and other conifer seeds and insects including beetles, wasps, caterpillars, crane flies, moths, and insect eggs. In general, the diet consists of mostly arthropods during the breeding season, and conifer seeds during the non-breeding season. The young are fed exclusively insects.

Nuthatches are bark-gleaning birds. They primarily forage on trunks, but also use a wide variety of substrates including branches, stumps, and the ground. They break food apart by wedging it into bark crevices and breaking smaller pieces off, or by prying seeds open with their strong beaks.

Nuthatches regularly store food during the fall and winter. They cache food under bark, in holes in tree trunks, and sometimes on the ground. They obtain water by drinking from small pools of water.

Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore ); omnivore

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Comments: Eats mainly conifer seeds and insects; forages over trunk and branches.

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Food Habits

Red-breasted nuthatches eat conifer seeds and insects including Coleoptera, wasps, Lepidoptera, crane flies, moths, and insect eggs. They usually eat arthropods during the breeding season, and conifer seeds during the winter. The young are fed insects.

Nuthatches are bark-gleaning birds. This means that they search for food in the bark of trees. They spend most of their time on the trunks of trees, but may also search for food on branches, stumps, and the ground. They break food apart by wedging it into bark crevices and breaking smaller pieces off, or by prying seeds open with their strong beaks.

Nuthatches store food during the fall and winter. They hide food under bark, in holes in tree trunks, and sometimes on the ground. They get water by drinking from small pools.

Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

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Associations

Adams and Morrison (1993) reported that red-breasted nuthatches may be important in the seed dispersal and germination of forest trees, based on observations of seed caching (localized storaging of food).

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Red-breasted nuthatches are preyed upon by a number of bird and mammal species. Predators of adult red-breasted nuthatches include sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks, merlins, northern pygmy-owls, spotted owls, red squirrels and weasels. Steller's jays, housewrens, gray-necked chipmunks, weasels and mice are known predators of eggs and nestlings.

Red-breasted nuthatches defend their nest from predators by surrounding the entrance to the nest with pine pitch. They also join other small birds in mobbing potential predators, such as hawks and jays. When a nest is threatened, the female may jump out of her nest cavity and perch near the entrance to perform an anti-predator display. She spreads her wings and sways slowly back and forth to distract the predator from the nest.

Known Predators:

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Ecosystem Roles

Red-breasted nuthatches may be important in the seed dispersal of forest tree seeds. They collect seeds and store them in places where they may germinate and grow into trees.

Red-breasted nuthatches also affect the populations of animals that eat them, and the insects that they eat.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Red-breasted nuthatches are preyed upon by a number of bird and mammal species. Predators of adult red-breasted nuthatches include Accipiter striatus, Accipiter cooperii, Falco columbarius, Blaucidium gnoma, Strix occidentalis, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus and Mustela. Cyanocitta stelleri, Troglodytes aedon, Eutamias cinereicollis, Mustela and Peromyscus are known predators of eggs and nestlings.

Red-breasted nuthatches defend their nest from predators by surrounding the entrance to the nest with pine pitch. They also join other small birds in mobbing potential predators, such as hawks and jays. When a nest is threatened, the female may jump out of her nest cavity and perch near the entrance to perform an anti-predator display. She spreads her wings and sways slowly back and forth to distract the predator from the nest.

Known Predators:

  • sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter_striatus)
  • Cooper's hawks (Accipiter_cooperii)
  • merlins (Falco_columbarius)
  • northern pygmy-owls (Blaucidium_gnoma)
  • spotted owls (Strix_occidentalis)
  • red squirrels (Tamiasciurus_hudsonicus)
  • weasels (Mustela)
  • Steller's jays (Cyanocitta_stelleri)
  • house wrens (Troglodytes_aedon)
  • gray-necked chipmunks (Tamias_cinereicollis)
  • white-footed mice and deer mice (Peromyscus)

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Known predators

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Known prey organisms

Sitta canadensis preys on:
Insecta

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

Territorial during breeding season; territories range in size from 0.2 hectares in Quebec (Cyr 1974) to 10 hectares in subalpine forests in New Hampshire (Sabo 1980). Winter territoriality is variable; territories are maintained by resident pairs, but migratory indidividuals do not defend territories (Tyler 1948, Matthysen et al. 1992).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Red-breasted nuthatches use a variety of physical displays and vocalizations to communicate. The most common call of red-breasted nuthatches is a nasal "yank-yank" call that has been describes as sounding like a small tin horn. Both males and females have a broad range of other calls that are softer and used less frequently.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Communication and Perception

Red-breasted nuthatches use a physical displays and vocalizations to communicate. The most common call of red-breasted nuthatches is a nasal "yank-yank" call that sounds like a small tin horn. Both males and females have many other calls that are softer and not heard as often.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

The oldest known red-breasted nuthatch lived for at least 7 years and 6 months.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
7.5 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
90 months.

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Lifespan/Longevity

The oldest known red-breasted nuthatch lived for at least 7 years and 6 months.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
7.5 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
90 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 7.5 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Red-breasted nuthatches are monogamous. They form breeding pairs beginning in winter or spring, and stay together for a year or more. Each pair defends a territory through the breeding season, and possibly through the year if the cone crop is good. In order to attract a female, males perform courtship displays that include raising their head and tail, drooping the wings, and fluffing the back feathers. A male sways from side to side and sings with his back turned toward the female. During courtship, males sing up to 50 times per minute from the tops of trees and potential nest trees. They also bring food to the female during courtship.

Mating System: monogamous

Red-breasted nuthatches begin breeding in their first year. Both adults take part in nest building. They usually dig a cavity in a tree stump or a branch of a dead tree, or occupy a vacant woodpecker hole. They use smeared resin to protect the inside of the nest, allowing just enough room for their body widths. This prevents insects, small mammals, and other birds from entering the nest cavity. Inside the cavity is a cup nest built with grasses, roots, mosses, shredded bark, and plant fibers.

Breeding occurs from mid-April through early August, with peak activity from May through July. Red-breasted nuthatches raise one brood per year. The female lays 5 to 8 (usually 6) pinkish-white eggs that are speckled with a reddish brown color. One egg is laid each day. The female incubates the eggs, which hatch after 12 to 13 days. During incubation, the male provides food to the female, allowing her to spend more time on the nest. After the eggs are hatched, the altricial nestlings are brooded for the first few days by the female. The male brings food to both the female and young. The young leave the nest 18 to 21 days after hatching. They become fully independent about 2 weeks after fledging.

Breeding interval: Red-breasted nuthatches breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from mid-April through early August, with peak activity from May through July.

Range eggs per season: 5 to 8.

Average eggs per season: 6.

Range time to hatching: 12 to 13 days.

Range fledging age: 18 to 21 days.

Average time to independence: 14 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average eggs per season: 5.

Because nuthatch chicks are hidden in nest cavities, little is known about the development. The newly hatched young are altricial, which means they are immobile, have closed eyes, and must be cared for by the adult. The female broods the chicks for the first week after hatching. During this time, the male brings food to the nest for the female and chicks. During the nestling and fledgling periods, both adults feed the chicks. They also remove the fecal sacs of the chicks from the nest. The chicks typically leave the nest 18 to 21 days after hatching, but may remain partially dependent on their parents for food for another two weeks.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)

  • Ghalambor, C., T. Martin. 1999. Parental investment strageties in two species of nuthatch vary with stage-specific predation risk and reproductive effort. Animal Behavior, 60: 263-276.
  • Ghalambor, C., T. Martin. 1999. Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). Pp. 1-28 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 459. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc.
  • Stalloup, P. 1968. Spatio-temporal relationships of nuthatches and woodpeckers in ponderosa pine forests of Colorado. Ecology, 49: 831-843.
  • Terres, J. 1982. The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Random House Inc.
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Clutch size is 4-7 (usually 5-6). Incubation lasts 12 days? Young are tended by both parents, leave nest at 18-21 days.

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Red-breasted nuthatches are monogamous. They form breeding pairs beginning in winter or spring, and stay together for a year or more. Each pair defends a territory through the breeding season, and possibly through the year if the cone crop is good. In order to attract a female, males perform courtship displays that include raising their head and tail, drooping the wings, and fluffing the back feathers. A male sways from side to side and sings with his back turned toward the female. During courtship, males sing up to 50 times per minute from the tops of trees and potential nest trees. They also bring food to the female during courtship.

Mating System: monogamous

Red-breasted nuthatches begin breeding when they are one year old. The male and female both build the nest. They usually dig out a cavity in a tree stump or a branch of a dead tree, or they may build the nest in an old woodpecker hole. They protect the inside of the nest by smearing it with resin. This keeps insects, small mammals, and other birds out of the nest. The nuthatches build a cup inside the cavity from grasses, roots, mosses, shredded bark, and plant fibers.

Red-breasted nuthatches breed between April and August. Each pair raises one brood per year. The female lays 5 to 8 (usually 6) pinkish-white eggs that are speckled with a reddish brown color. One egg is laid each day. The female incubates the eggs, which hatch after 12 to 13 days. During incubation, the male provides food to the female. This allows her to spend more time incubating the eggs. The nestlings are altricial (helpless), and the female broods them for the first few days. The male brings food to the female and the chicks. The chicks leave the nest after 18 to 21 days. They become fully independent about 2 weeks after fledging.

Breeding interval: Red-breasted nuthatches breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from mid-April through early August, with peak activity from May through July.

Range eggs per season: 5 to 8.

Average eggs per season: 6.

Range time to hatching: 12 to 13 days.

Range fledging age: 18 to 21 days.

Average time to independence: 14 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Average eggs per season: 5.

Newly hatched nuthatches are altricial, which means they are immobile, have closed eyes, and must be cared for by an adult. The female broods the chicks for the first week after hatching. During this time, the male brings food for the female and chicks. During the nestling and fledgling periods, both adults feed the chicks. They also remove the fecal sacs of the chicks from the nest. The chicks usually leave the nest 18 to 21 days after hatching, but may be dependent on their parents for food for another two weeks.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)

  • Ghalambor, C., T. Martin. 1999. Parental investment strageties in two species of nuthatch vary with stage-specific predation risk and reproductive effort. Animal Behavior, 60: 263-276.
  • Ghalambor, C., T. Martin. 1999. Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). Pp. 1-28 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 459. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc.
  • Stalloup, P. 1968. Spatio-temporal relationships of nuthatches and woodpeckers in ponderosa pine forests of Colorado. Ecology, 49: 831-843.
  • Terres, J. 1982. The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Random House Inc.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Sitta canadensis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 8 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

CCTGTATCTAATCTTCGGTGCATGAGCCGGGATAGTGGGTACCGCCCTAAGCCTCCTTATCCGAGCAGAACTAGGCCAACCAGGCGCCCTCTTGGGAGACGACCAAGTATATAACGTAATCGTCACGGCCCATGCTTTCGTAATAATCTTTTTTATAGTTATGCCAATTATGATTGGAGGATTTGGAAACTGACTAGTTCCTCTAATAATTGGAGCACCTGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATGAATAATATAAGCTTCTGACTTCTACCCCCATCCTTTCTTCTTCTACTAGCCTCCTCTACAGTAGAGGCCGGAGTAGGAACAGGATGAACTGTGTATCCTCCCCTGGCTGGTAATTTAGCCCACGCCGGGGCGTCAGTTGATTTAGCAATTTTCTCCCTACATCTAGCAGGAATTTCATCTATCCTAGGAGCAATCAATTTCATTACCACTGCGATTAACATAAAACCACCTGCCCTCTCCCAATATCAAACCCCCCTATTCGTATGATCTGTACTAATTACTGCCGTCTTGCTTCTCCTATCACTGCCCGTATTAGCCGCAGGTATCACCATGCTACTCACTGACCGCAACCTAAATACCACCTTCTTCGACCCAGCAGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTCCTTTATCAACACCTCTTCNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sitta canadensis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 9
Specimens with Barcodes: 10
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Populations of red-breasted nuthatches are increasing overall, but declining locally in some areas. Red-breasted nuthatches depend on habitat with standing dead trees and a variety of species. Logging and management practices that remove dead trees or reduce plant diversity have a negative impact on nuthatch populations.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Populations of red-breasted nuthatches are increasing overall, but declining locally in some areas. Red-breasted nuthatches depend on habitat with dead trees and a variety of tree species. Logging that removes dead trees or leaves only a few species of trees hurts nuthatch populations.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Population

Population Trend
Increasing
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Management

Restoration Potential: See Mitchell (1988) for specifications for the construction and placement of nest boxes.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Red-breasted nuthatches have no known negative effect on humans.

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Red-breasted nuthatches eat a variety of insects, including beetles, wasps, and flies, that humans consider to be pests.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Red-breasted nuthatches have no known negative effect on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Red-breasted nuthatches eat a variety of insects, including beetles, wasps, and flies, that humans consider to be pests.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Red-breasted nuthatch

The red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) is a small songbird. The adult has blue-grey upperparts with cinnamon underparts, a white throat and face with a black stripe through the eyes, a straight grey bill and a black crown. Its call, which has been likened to a tin trumpet, is high-pitched and nasal. It breeds in coniferous forests across Canada, Alaska and the northeastern and western United States. Though often a permanent resident, it regularly irrupts further south if its food supply fails. There are records of vagrants occurring as far south as the Gulf Coast and northern Mexico. It forages on the trunks and large branches of trees, often descending head first, sometimes catching insects in flight. It eats mainly insects and seeds, especially from conifers. It excavates its nest in dead wood, often close to the ground, smearing the entrance with pitch.


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Taxonomy[edit]

Like all nuthatches, the red-breasted nuthatch is assigned to the genus Sitta (Linnaeus, 1758),[2] a name derived from sittē (σιττη), the Ancient Greek word for the Eurasian nuthatch. The specific epithet canadensis is New Latin for "belonging to Canada".[3] The species was given its scientific name by Carl Linnaeus in 1766, based on a specimen collected in Canada.[4] "Nuthatch" is a linguistic corruption of "nuthack", referring to the bird's habit of wedging nuts into cracks in tree bark and hacking at them until they break open.[5] "Red-breasted" is a reference to the rusty colour of the male's underparts.[3]

The nuthatch's habit of wedging seeds into cracks and hammering them open has given rise to its common name.

In the past, the red-breasted nuthatch and four other species — the Corsican nuthatch, the Chinese nuthatch, the Algerian nuthatch and the Krüper's nuthatch — were thought to be a single species.[6] These five make up a well-defined species group known as the "Sitta canadensis group", and are sometimes considered to be a superspecies.[4] Within the species group, DNA studies have shown that the red-breasted nuthatch, the Corsican nuthatch and the Chinese nuthatch make up one clade and the Algerian nuthatch and Krüper's nuthatch make up a sister clade.[7] The red-breasted nuthatch is monotypic across its extensive range.[4]

Description[edit]

The red-breasted nuthatch is a small passerine, measuring 4.5 in (11 cm) in length,[nb 1][9] with a wingspan of 8.5 in (22 cm) and a weight of 9.9 g (0.35 oz).[10] Its back and uppertail are bluish, and its underparts rust-colored. It has a black cap and eye line and a white supercilium (eyebrow). Sexes are similarly plumaged, though females and youngsters have duller heads and paler underparts.[9]

Voice[edit]

The red-breasted nuthatch's call is high-pitched, nasal and weak. Transcribed as yenk or ink,[10] they have been likened to a toy tin horn[9] or a child's noisemaker.[11] Its song is a slowly repeated series of clear, nasal, rising notes, transcribed as eeen eeen eeen.[10]

Habitat and range[edit]

Though it is primarily a full-time resident of northern and subalpine conifer forests, the red-breasted nuthatch regularly migrates irruptively, with both the number migrating and the wintering locations varying from year to year.[9] They sometimes reach northern Mexico, where they are rare winter visitors to Nuevo Leon, Baja California Norte and south along the Pacific slope as far as Sinaloa.[12] In the eastern United States, its range is expanding southwards.[9] Though formerly resident on Isla Guadalupe, an island off the western coast of Mexico, it appears to have been extirpated there, with the last known record of the species on the island dating from 1971. There is a single vagrant record for Mexico's Isla Socorro.[12] It is an extremely rare vagrant to Europe, with two records in the western Palearctic; one bird successfully overwintered in eastern England.[13]

Feeding behavior and diet[edit]

Like all nuthatches, the red-breasted nuthatch is an acrobatic species, hitching itself up and down tree trunks and branches to look for food.[9] It goes headfirst when climbing down. It can "walk" on the underside of branches. Unlike woodpeckers and creepers, it does not use its tail as a prop while climbing.[14] It tends to forage singly or in pairs.[12]

The red-breasted nuthatch's diet changes depending on the season. In the summer, it eats mostly insects, occasionally even flycatching, while in the winter, it switches to conifer seeds.[15] At feeders it will take sunflower seeds, peanut butter, and suet. It often wedges food pieces in bark crevices in order to break them up with the bill (as opposed to holding the food in their feet, like the black-capped chickadee does).

Breeding[edit]

The red-breasted nuthatch, like all nuthatches, is monogamous. The male courts the female with a peculiar display, lifting his head and tail while turning his back to her, drooping his wings, and swaying from side to side.

This bird excavates its own cavity nest, 1.53–37 m (5.0–121.4 ft) above ground (usually around 4.6 m (15 ft)). Excavation is by both sexes and takes one to eight weeks.[16] The pair smears sap around the entrance hole, presumably to help deter predators.[14] The nest is lined with grass, moss, shredded bark and rootlets. Nest building is by both sexes, but mostly by the female.

The female lays 2–8 eggs (usually 5–6), which are white, creamy or pinkish, and covered with reddish-brown speckles. The eggs measure 0.6–0.7 in (1.5–1.8 cm) long by 0.4–0.5 in (1.0–1.3 cm) wide. Incubation is by the female and lasts 12–13 days.[17] The young are altricial and stay in the nest for 2–3 weeks, brooded by the female but fed by both sexes. Normally there is only one brood per year. Lifespan is around 6 years.

Conservation status and threats[edit]

Because of its large global range and its increasing population, the red-breasted nuthatch is rated as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[1] In the Americas, it is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.[18]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ By convention, length is measured from the tip of the bill to the tip of the tail on a dead bird (or skin) laid on its back.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Sitta canadensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ (Latin) Linnaeus, C (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii). p. 115. "Rostrum subcultrato-conicum, rectum, porrectum: integerrimum, mandíbula superiore obtusiuscula. Lingua lacero-emarginata" 
  3. ^ a b Holloway, Joel Ellis (2003). Dictionary of birds of the United States: Scientific and Common Names. Portland, OR: Timber Press. p. 185. ISBN 0-88192-600-0. 
  4. ^ a b c Harrap 2008, p. 136
  5. ^ "Nuthatch". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Elphick, Dunning and Sibley 2001, p. 435
  7. ^ Pasquet, Eric (January 1998). "Phylogeny of the nuthatches of the Sitta canadensis group and its evolutionary and biogeographic implications". Ibis (Abstract) 140 (1): 150–156. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1998.tb04553.x. 
  8. ^ Cramp, Stanley, ed. (1977). Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa: Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1, Ostrich to Ducks. Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-19-857358-8. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Dunn, Jon L.; Alderfer, Jonathan, eds. (2006). National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (5 ed.). Washington DC: National Geographic. p. 341. ISBN 0-7922-5314-0. 
  10. ^ a b c Sibley, David (2000). The North American Bird Guide. Mountfield, UK: Pica Press. p. 380. ISBN 1-873403-98-4. 
  11. ^ Taylor, Richard Cachor (2010). Birds of Southeastern Arizona. Olympia, WA: R. W. Morse Company. p. 275. ISBN 978-0-9640810-7-9. 
  12. ^ a b c Howell, Steve N. G; Webb, Sophie (1995). A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. p. 553. ISBN 978-0-19-854012-0. 
  13. ^ Dye, Keith; Fiszer, Mick; Allard, Peter (2009). Birds New to Norfolk. Sheringham, UK: Wren Publishing. pp. 340–342. ISBN 978-0-9542545-3-7. 
  14. ^ a b Reed 2001, p. 437
  15. ^ Harrap, Simon; Quinn, David (1996). Tits, Nuthatches & Treecreepers. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 144–148. 
  16. ^ Reed 2001, p. 436
  17. ^ "All About Birds: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Life History". Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Retrieved 26 May 2011. 
  18. ^ "Birds Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act". US Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 16 September 2011. 

Cited texts[edit]

  • Reed, J. Michael (2001). "Nuthatches". In Elphick, Chris; Dunning, Jr., John B.; Sibley, David. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behaviour. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-6250-6. 
  • Harrap, Simon (2008). "Family Sittidae (Nuthatches)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David. Handbook of Birds of the World, Volume 13: Penduline-tits to Shrikes. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-96553-45-3. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Possibly conspecific with Asiatic S. VILLOSA (AOU 1983).

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