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White-breasted Nuthatch -
Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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Crown is black in males, generally grayish in females. Both sexes have white face and breast. Back is bluish-gray, wing coverts have white edging. Undertail coverts and sides rusty - intensity of this color may vary. Tail is short, with white corners visible in flight. Females duller and grayer overall than males. Bill is nearly as long as head and slightly upturned. Like other nuthatches, this species characteristically walks head downward on large branches and trunks, probing crevices in bark for its seed and insect prey (Pravosudov and Grubb 1993). See Wood (1992) for information on identification of sexes in eastern North America (females most closely resemble males in the southeastern U.S., but all can identified correctly in the hand).
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)
A common resident of deciduous forests in North America. Also in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests. Favors woodland edges over more central locations, prefering open areas. Over much of its range the presence of some oaks seems to be a requirement (Pravosudov and Grubb 1993).
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
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Feeds on a variety of insects and plant matter (acorns, nuts, etc.) (Pravosudov and Grubb 1993).
Female builds the nest. Nests in natural cavities or old woodpecker holes. Clutch sizes range from 5 to 9 eggs (Pravosudov and Grubb 1993). Near Fortine, flying young were seen on June 28. Eggs were seen on June 17 and hatching was observed on June 25. Egg dates are probably similar to those found in Colorado: May 13 to June 25.
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Wood, D.S. 1992. Color and size variation in eastern white-breasted nuthatches. The Wilson Bulletin 104(4): 599-611. 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. Bramblett, R.G., and A.V. Zale. 2002. Montana Prairie Riparian Native Species Report. Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Montana State University - Bozeman. Cameron, E. S. 1908. The birds of Custer and Dawson counties, Montana. Auk 25:39-56. Dickson, D.C. 1991. Systematic wildlife observations on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Missoula, MT. 14 pp. plus appendices and photographs. DuBois, K.L. 1979. An inventory of the avifauna in the Long Pines of Southeastern Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 113 p. Ecological Consulting Service, Helena, MT., 1975, Peabody Coal Company Big Sky Mine: Wildlife environmental indicators monitoring survey. Progress report. Project 58-23-A. June 16, 1975. Econ, Inc. 1988. Wildlife monitoring report, 1987 field season, Big Sky Mine. March 1988. In Peabody Mining and Reclamation Plan Big Sky Mine Area B. Vol. 8, cont., Tab 10 - Wildlife Resources. Appendix 10-1, 1987 Annual Wildlife Report. 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. Flath, Dennis and David Dickson. 1994 Systematic wildlife observations on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area 1991-1993. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Hand, R.L. 1969. A distributional checklist of the birds of western Montana. Unpublished. Available at Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula. 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., 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. Henderson, S. 1997. Effects of fire on avian distributions and patterns of abundance over two vegetation types in southwest Montana : implications for managing fire for biodiversity. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 95 p. Herbert, J.T. 1977. An inventory of the bird population within the Sarpy Creek drainage, southeastern Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 81 p. Hutto, R. L., and J. S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-32, Ogden, Utah. Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp. 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. Knopf, F.L. 1986. Changing landscapes and the cosmopolitism of the eastern Colorado avifauna. Wildlife Society Bulletin 14(2):132-142. 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. Martin, T.E. 1988. Habitat and area effects on forest bird assemblages: is nest predation an influence? Ecology 69(1):74-84. Matthews, W.L. 1981. Broadus-Pumpkin Creek baseline inventory - wildlife. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 83 p. 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. McEllin, S.M. 1978. Adaptive accommodations of nuthatches in ponderosa pine forests. Ph.D. Thesis, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins. 229 pp. McWethy, D.B. 2007. Bird response to landscape and pattern disturbance across productivity gradients in forests of the Pacific Northwest. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 184 p. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. Mosher, B.A. 2011. Avian community response to a mountain beetle epidemic. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 55 p. MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks. No date. Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area checklist. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1993, Big Sky Mine 1992 wildlife monitoring. Rev. February 1993. Pravosudov, V.V. and T.C. Grubb, Jr. 1993. White-breasted Nuthatch ( Sitta carolinensis). Species Account Number 054. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database Ralph, J.C., J.R. Sauer, and S. Droege. 1995. Monitoring bird populations by point counts. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-149. Albany, CA: USDA Pacific Southwest Research Station. 181 p. Richmond, C.W. and F.H. Knowlton. 1894. Birds of south-central Montana. Auk 11:298-308. Rollfinke, B.F., and R.H. Yahner. 1990. Effects of time of day and season on winter bird counts. The Condor 92:215-219. Saunders, A.A. 1914. The birds of Teton and northern Lewis & Clark counties, Montana. Condor 16:124-144. 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. Scott, V.E., J.E. Whelan, and P.L. Svoboda. 1980. Cavity nesting birds and forest management. Pages 311-324 in Management of Western Forests and Grasslands for Nongame birds. U.S. For. Serv. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-86. 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. Stewart, R.E. and H.A. Kantrud. 1972. Population estimates of breeding birds in North Dakota. The Auk 89(4):766-788. Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. 1982. Birds of the Swan River NWR. Kalispell, MT: NW MT Fish and Wildlife Center pamphlet. 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. Verner, J., and L.V. Ritter. 1985. A comparison of transects and point counts in oak-pine woodlands of California. The Condor 87:47-68. Waage, Bruce C., 2001, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: 2000 Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report; December 1, 1999 - November 30, 2000. March 30, 2001. Waldt, R. 1995. The Pine Butte Swamp Preserve bird list. Choteau, MT: The Nature Conservancy. Updated August 1995. 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. Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1982, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1982. Westmoreland Resources, Inc., Hardin, MT., 1981, 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 "White-breasted Nuthatch"
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