Overview

Distribution

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: RESIDENT: southern interior British Columbia, northern Idaho, western Montana, central Wyoming and southwstern South Dakota south to northern Baja California, southern Nevada, central and southeastern Arizona, central New Mexico, extreme western Texas and extreme western Oklahoma, south in mountains to cental Mexico (AOU 1983). To elevations of 3000 m.

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Geographic Range

Pygmy Nuthatches are found along the Pacific coast from Baja up into southern British Columbia, and range as far south as central Mexico. Pygmy Nuthatches can be found as far east as central Montana and Colorado. They also live in patches throughout the mountainous regions of Mexico (Bent, 1948).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Male Pygmy Nuthatches have a grayish-brown crown on their heads; they also have a black stripe through their eyes, and a white line over their eyes. Their back and central tail feathers are bluish gray, and they have reddish brown underbellies. Pygmy Nuthatches have white spots on their outer tail feathers and have dark brown bills and feet. Female Pygmy Nuthatches are very similar to the males, differing in that the females have a bluish gray crown along with underbodies that are usually paler then the underbodies of males (Hoffman, 1927).

Range mass: 9.3 to 11 g.

Range length: 9 to 11 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 11 cm

Weight: 11 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Pine forest and woodland, especially ponderosa pine, less frequently pinyon-juniper (AOU 1983). At night may roost in groups in tree cavities. For the Pacific Northwest, U.S. Forest Service et al. (1993) recommended maintaining adequate numbers (around 0.6/acre) of large snags (over 15-20 inches dbh, if possible) and green tree replacements for future snags (can be left in groups to reduce blowdown), in stands of ponderosa pine. Breeding pair digs a hole in dead wood, or uses an abandoned woodpecker hole. Nest hole is usually 2.5-18 m above ground. May be limited by nest site availability. In northern Arizona, breeding density was increased from 4-19 breeding pairs per 40 ha to 9-30 pairs after nest boxes were added (Brawn and Balda 1988). See Mitchell (1988) for specifications for the construction and placement of nest boxes.

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Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Pygmy Nuthatches prefer to make their homes in long-needle pine forests, especially in Ponderosa, Monterey, and Jeffrey pines. They are found in their highest density in old-growth forests that are undisturbed and contain numerous dead pines. Pygmy Nuthatches live in valleys, and they are also found in mountainous areas all the way up to the tree line, as long as there is an abundance of old-growth pine trees (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Range elevation: 4250 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains

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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: No. No 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

Comments: Feeds on insects (wasps, ants, beetles, moths, grasshoppers, etc); also eats spiders and pine seeds. Forages on outer branches and twigs as well as along tree trunks.

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Food Habits

During the breeding season Pygmy Nuthatches have a diet which consists of 60-85% insects, such as beetles, wasps, ants, and caterpillars. The other portion of their diet includes seeds from pine trees and other plant materials. Pygmy Nuthatches use their bills to probe the cracks of trees and peel off bark to expose the insects that are inside the tree. They also search inside the crevices of pine cones on trees and on the ground for insects. Pygmy Nuthatches feed in flocks, especially during the non-breeding season. This appears to increase the ability of the flock members to find a food source. The winter diet of this bird comprises of seeds or insects, depending on the birds location and the food available (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore )

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Pygmy Nuthatches prefer to nest in old-growth pine forests and they eat pine tree seeds and insects. So, they are responsible for some seed dispersal. Since the majority of Pygmy Nuthatches' diet is insects, they are also responsible for influencing the population of insects in their territory (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Pygmy Nuthatches have many adaptations to help them avoid predators. This species of nuthatch sometimes feeds in flocks, which helps it to look for predators and confuse them if they attack. If a predator attacks a flock of Pygmy Nuthatches all the birds in the flock scatter at the same time, and this sometimes confuses the predator long enough for all or most of the Pygmy Nuthatches to fly to a safe location.

When solitary Pygmy Nuthatches spot a predator they position themselves on the opposite side of a tree or branch from the predator to block the advance of the predator.

When squirrels try to invade nests that contain eggs or juveniles, female Pygmy Nuthatches perch at the entrance of their nest, spread their wings, and sway back and forth slowly in a rhythmic movement. Pygmy Nuthatches have also been seen mobbing hawks or other larger birds that may invade their area (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Sitta pygmaea is prey of:
Accipiter striatus
Tamias
Accipiter cooperii
Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Pituophis catenifer
Glaucidium californicum

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona (Forest, Montane)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • D. I. Rasmussen, Biotic communities of Kaibab Plateau, Arizona, Ecol. Monogr. 11(3):228-275, from p. 261 (1941).
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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Known prey organisms

Sitta pygmaea preys on:
Aphididae
Cicadellidae
Coleoptera
Insecta

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona (Forest, Montane)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • D. I. Rasmussen, Biotic communities of Kaibab Plateau, Arizona, Ecol. Monogr. 11(3):228-275, from p. 261 (1941).
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
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General Ecology

Often found in association with yellow-rumped warbler, plain titmouse, or mountain chickadee. Social throughout year. Travels in small family groups after nesting season. Family groups form larger loose flocks in fall and winter. Winter groups average 5-15 individuals; forage as a flock and roost communally within group territory (Sydeman et al. 1988).

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Life History and Behavior

Life Cycle

Development

ThPygmy Nuthatches' eggs are 15.76 mm in length and 12.21 mm in breadth. Young Pygmy Nuthatches are capable of reproduction at 1 year of age, though some males may become helpers and not reproduce for another year (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of Pygmy Nuthatches was determined by recapturing birds that were banded. The maximum recorded lifespan was 8 years 2 months (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
1 to 6 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 8.2 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Clutch size is 4-9 (usually 6-8). Incubation, by female, lasts 15.5-16 days. Nestlings are altricial. Young leave nest at 22 days (Terres 1980). Cooperative breeding has been documented in California and Arizona; breeding units consisted of 2-5 birds; helpers (mostly yearlings, and offspring or siblings of the birds they aided) were found at about 30% of all nests in northern Arizona; nests with helpers sometimes more productive than those without helpers (Sydeman et al. 1988).

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Pygmy Nuthatches appear to be monogamous and form pair bonds that last through the entire year. Male Pygmy Nuthatches court females by bringing them food before mating has taken place. The males also continue to feed the females after mating, during nest building, egg-laying, and through the incubation process. During the nest building period of the courtship, which takes 3-6 weeks, males and females work together to build the nest. Pygmy Nuthatches can build their own nests but prefer to use nests and other holes that have been made previously by other organisms (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Mating System: monogamous ; cooperative breeder

Female Pygmy Nuthatches initiates copulation; females perch next to the males on a horizontal branch and face the males with their bills open. Then the females make high pitched calls and hold their tails stiffly away from their bodies to signal to the males that they are ready to mate. Female Pygmy Nuthatches then shake their wings and begin a swinging motion that is common to many nuthatch species. This swing motion is similar to trembling and prompts male Pygmy Nuthatches to sit behind the females and begin the same trembling-swinging motion. The males then mount the females and sometimes peck at the back of the female's head. Copulation lasts less than 5 seconds, then both will fly away (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Breeding season: April to August

Range eggs per season: 5 to 9.

Range time to hatching: 12 to 17 days.

Range fledging age: 19 to 21 days.

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

Average eggs per season: 7.

Female Pygmy Nuthatches start laying their eggs in the early morning and continue throughout the day. The eggs of Pygmy Nuthatches are white and speckled with chestnut-red or purplish brown spots. The females do not begin incubating the eggs until all of the eggs have been laid, but the females do cover the eggs with nesting materials until the entire clutch is laid. Male Pygmy Nuthatches bring the females food and nesting material during the incubation process. Pygmy Nuthatches also engage in cooperative breeding, with 1 to several brood helpers (Sydeman, 1989). The helpers are usually male yearlings from the previous year and will help for about 1 year. The helpers feed the females and the young Pygmy Nuthatches when they hatch. Once the young hatch the parents take the egg shells and fly them away from the nest (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Sitta pygmaea

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


There are 5 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.

CCTATACCTAATTTTCGGTGCATGAGCCGGAATGGTGGGTACCGCCCTAAGCCTCCTTATCCGAGCAGAACTGGGCCAACCAGGCGCCCTCCTGGGAGACGACCAAGTGTATAACGTAATCGTCACAGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATGATTTTTTTTATAGTTATACCAATTATAATCGGAGGATTTGGTAACTGACTAGTCCCCTTAATAATTGGAGCACCTGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTACCCCCATCCTTCCTCCTCCTACTAGCCTCCTCCACAGTCGAAGCTGGGGCAGGAACAGGATGAACTGTGTACCCTCCCCTGGCCGGCAACCTAGCTCACGCCGGGGCTTCAGTCGACTTAGCTATTTTCTCCTTACACCTAGCAGGAATCTCCTCCATCCTAGGAGCAATTAACTTCATTACTACTGCAATCAACATAAAACCGCCTGCTCTATCCCAATACCAAACCCCTCTATTCGTATGATCCGTATTAATCACTGCAGTCCTACTCCTCCTCTCCCTGCCCGTCCTCGCTGCAGGCATTACCATGTTACTTACAGACCGTAACCTAAACACCACCTTCTTTGACCCAGCAGGAGGAGGAGATCCTGTTCTTTACCAACACCTATTCTGATTCTTTGGCCACNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sitta pygmaea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently 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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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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Pygmy Nuthatches need old-growth pines for nesting and collection of food, so they are excellent indicators of the health and age of the pine forests where they are found. Since Pygmy Nuthatches need a specific type of environment to live in they are especially vulnerable to deforestation, by humans and natural causes, which results in significant depletion of old-growth pine trees. Pine forests that have been logged or destroyed because of other reasons have resulted in significant drops in populations of Pygmy Nuthatches (Kingery and Ghalambor, 2001).

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population Trend
Increasing
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Management

Needs: See Thomas et al. (1993) for recommendations for the Pacific Northwest.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

No significant negative economic aspects were attributed to Pygmy Nuthatches.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

No significant economic contributions were attributed to Pygmy Nuthatches, though this species of nuthatch could be a source of insect control.

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Wikipedia

Pygmy Nuthatch

At a feeder

The pygmy nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) is a tiny songbird, about 10 cm (4 inches) long and about 10 grams in weight. It ranges from southern British Columbia south through various discontinuous parts of the western U.S. (northwest U.S., Sierra Nevada range, southern Rockies, etc.), to central Mexico. It is usually found in pines (especially Ponderosa Pines), Douglas-firs, and other conifers. Pygmy Nuthatches clamber acrobatically in the foliage of these trees, feeding on insects and seeds; less often they creep along limbs or the trunk like bigger nuthatches.

Pygmy nuthatches nest in cavities in dead stubs of conifers, lining the bottom of the cavity with pine-cone scales, plant down, and other soft plant and animal materials. They may fill cracks or crevices around the entrance with fur; the function of this behavior is unknown. The female lays 4–9 eggs, which are white with fine reddish-brown spotting. She does most of the incubation, which lasts about 16 days. The young leave the nest about 22 days after hatching.

This species is highly gregarious. A nesting pair may have other birds as helpers. Outside the breeding season, this bird wanders in noisy flocks. It also roosts communally; over 100 birds have been seen huddled in a single tree cavity.

All plumages are similar, with a warm gray cap, blue-gray upper-parts, and whitish underparts. The only feature not seen in the photograph is a whitish spot on the nape, particularly in worn plumage (summer). Vocalizations are highly varied chirps, peeps, and chattering.

This species is very similar to the brown-headed nuthatch of the southeastern U.S. Their ranges have no overlap.

The pygmy nuthatch features prominently in the climax of the 2000 film Charlie's Angels, in which Cameron Diaz's character, Natalie, discovers the location of the villains' fortress by identifying the call of the pygmy nuthatch, which she says only live in Carmel, California—though the bird shown is not a pygmy nuthatch, which in any case is found in a much wider range. (The Hollywood impostor is a Venezuelan troupial, Icterus icterus.)

References[edit]

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Constitutes a superspecies with and has been considered conspecific with S. PUSILLA by some authors (AOU 1983, 1998).

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