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Pygmy Nuthatch -
Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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Small nuthatch, length 9 to 11 cm; mass 9.3 to 11 g. Sexes alike; immatures similar to adults. Crown gray-brown, dark eye-line marks cap. Pale spot on nape. Face white or buffy white, breast and belly dull to bright buff to buffy white, blending into bluish gray on sides. Back, rump, and tail bluish gray; base of middle pair of rectrices white. Wings brownish slate with coverts edged with bluish gray and primaries edged, more or less, with white. A bird of frenetic movement - head first, up tree, down tree, along branches, right-side up and upside down - accompanied by constant chatter (Kingery and Ghalambor 2001).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see
Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Lives in long-needled pine forests, principally ponderosa pines. Reaches its highest densities in mature pine forests little affected by logging, firewood collection, and snag removal (Kingery and Ghalambor 2001).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system,
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at:
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Feeds mainly on weevils and leaf and bark beetles, but also eats pine seed. At feeders, eats suet and sunflower seeds (Kingery and Ghalambor 2001).
Near Missoula, territory sizes ranged from 1.8 to 3.9 hectares. Adult conspecific helpers were observed at nests.
A cavity nester, can excavate own cavity, but will use woodpecker holes and natural cavities. Eggs are short subelliptical to short-oval in shape; color white, sparsely and variably speckled or spotted chestnut red, reddish brown or purplish brown. Clutch size typically 5 to 9, average 7 eggs (Kingery and Ghalambor 2001). Near Missoula, mean clutch size was 7.3 eggs, the median date of the first egg was May 14, and females spent 80.7% of the time on the nest. Near Fortine, adults were feeding young on July 24.
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Kingery, H. E., and C. K. Ghalambor. 2001. Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea). In The birds of North America, No. 567 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and American Ornithologists’ Union. Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Aney, W. C. 1984. The effects of patch size on bird communities of remnant old-growth pine stands in western Montana. M.S. thesis, University of Montana, Missoula. 98 p. Bent, A. C. 1948. Life histories of North American nuthatches, wrens, thrashers, and their allies. U.S. National Museum Bulletin No. 195. Clark, T.W., H.A. Harvey, R.D. Dorn, D.L. Genter, and C. Groves (eds). 1989. Rare, sensitive, and threatened species of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Montana Natural Heritage Program, The Nature Conservancy, and Mountain West Environmental Services. 153 p. Diem, K. L. and S. I. Zeveloff. 1980. Ponderosa pine bird communities. In: R. M. DeGraff and N. G. Tilghman, eds. Workshop Proceedings: Management of western forests and grasslands for nongame birds. USDA. Forest Service General Technical Report INT-86. p. 170-197. Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hejl, S.J. and R.E. Woods. 1991. Bird assemblages in old-growth and rotation-aged Douglas-fir/ponderosa pine stands in the northern Rocky Mountains: a preliminary assessment. Pages 285-292 in D. M. Baumgartner and J. E. Lotan, eds. Symposium proceedings, interior Douglas-fir: the species and its management. Wash. State Univ., Pullman. Hejl, S.J., R.L. Hutto, C.R. Preston, and D.M. Finch. 1995. The effects of silvicultural treatments on forest birds in the Rocky Mountains. pp. 220-244 In: T.E. Martin and D.M. Finch (eds). Ecology and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 489 p. Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Knorr, O.A. 1957. Communual roosting of the pygmy nuthatch. Condor 59: 398. Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp. Manolis, T. 1977. Foraging relationships of mountain chickadees and pygmy nuthatches. West. Birds 8: 13-20. Martin, T.E. 1988. Habitat and area effects on forest bird assemblages: is nest predation an influence? Ecology 69(1):74-84. Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp. McEllin, S. M. 1979. Nest sites and population demographies of white-breasted and pygmy nuthatches in Colorado. Condor 81: 348-352. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. Norris, R. A. 1958. Comparative biosystematics and life history of the nuthatches Sitta pygmaea and Sitta pusilla. University of California Publications in Zoology 56:119-300. Raphael, M.G. 1980. Utilization of standing dead trees by breeding birds at Sagehen Creek, Calif. Ph.D Thesis, Univ. California, Berkeley. 195 pp. Scott, V.E. 1979. Bird response to snag removal in ponderosa pine. Journal of Forestry 77(1): 26-28. Scott, V.E. and J.L. Oldemeyer. 1983. Cavity-nesting bird requirements and responses to snag cutting in ponderosa pine. Pages 19-23 in J. W. Davis, G. A. Goodwin, and R. A. Ockenfels (tech. coords.). USDA For. Serv. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-99. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p. Stallcup, P.L. 1968. Spatio-temporal relationships of nuthatches and woodpeckers in ponderosa pine forest of Colorado. Ecology 49: 831-843. Storer, B.E. 1977. Aspects of the breeding ecology of the Pygmy Nuthatch ( Sitta pygmaea) and the foraging ecology of wintering mixed-species flocks in western Montana. M.S. Thesis. Univ. Montana, Missoula. 114 pp. Sydeman, W. J., M. Guntert, and R. J. Balda. 1988. Annual reproductive yield in the cooperative pygmy nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea). Auk 105: 70-77. Sydeman, W.J. and M. Guntert. 1983. Winter communal roosting in the pygmy nuthatch. Pages 121-124 in J. W. Davis, G. A. Goodwin, and R. A. Ockenfels, tech. coords. U. S. For. Serv. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-99. Thompson, Richard W., Western Resource Dev. Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996. U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. Westmoreland Resources, Inc., Hardin, MT., 1981, Upper Sarpy Basin Wildlife Study. In 1981 Wildlife Report. April 1982. White, C.M., N.J. Van Lanen, D.C. Pavlacky Jr., J.A. Blakesley, R.A. Sparks, J.M.Stenger, J.A. Rehm-Lorber, M.F. McLaren, F. Cardone, J.J. Birek and D.J. Hanni. 2011. Integrated monitoring of bird conservation regions (IMBCR): 2010 Annual Report. Brighton, CO: Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. 387 p. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Pygmy Nuthatch"
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