Make the ID: Red-breasted vs White-breasted Nuthatch


There are four species of Nuthatches in North America, but the two most widespread species are Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches. These compact little steel-blue birds, often found hanging in some acrobatic fashion around feeders, other times, lifting up bark to insert a seed and then hammering it open to “hatch” the seed, are great to have around. Their squeak toy calls are easy signals to know they are near. And they are fun to watch moving up, down and all around the trees they are foraging from. Here are some tips for identifying these two nuthatches.


HEAD: One of the best ways to tell these birds apart is by the markings on their heads. Red-breasted Nuthatches have a black eyeline with a white brow and black head – females will have a browner head; White-breasted Nuthatches have a white face and black crown which continues to the nape of their necks – look for a more gray head on these females.


If you can’t see the head then…


BODY: Red-breasted Nuthatches have a light rust-colored breast which is visible from the side; White-breasted Nuthatches have a white breast but a dark rust vent under their tail.


SIZE: Both these birds are small, but the White-breasted Nuthatch is a bit larger.


For more information about all four of our North American nuthatches, including Brown-headed and Pygmy, read this article from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Red and White-breasted Nuthatches; Photo Credit: Stan Tekiela