Irresistible! Attract White-breasted Nuthatches to Your Feeder

White-breasted Nuthatch by Imogen Warren

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Greg Gillson

White-breasted Nuthatches may be small in stature. But they make up for it with an abundance of personality!

These birds are found widely across the United States. So chances are good that you have some near you to attract to your feeder.

How do you attract White-breasted Nuthatches to your feeder? Continue reading to learn how to attract White-breasted Nuthatches to your yard.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch. Greg Gillson

Why attract White-breasted Nuthatches to your bird feeder?

Nuthatches are such interesting birds. But, I guess, that’s what you’d expect from a bird that approaches the world upside-down!

Crawling actively over the bark of trunks, limbs, and larger branches, these birds inspect every nook and cranny for food. Their favorite way to look for food is to crawl head-first down a tree.

Unlike the sparrows, which stay at your feeder and eat seeds there, White-breasted Nuthatches take only one seed at a time. They grab a seed and then fly off to open it on a nearby branch, safe from more aggressive birds.

They usually come to the feeder as single birds. You won’t find this species in flocks. In late summer they may travel as a small family group, but usually they are solitary. The result is, they don’t eat as many seeds as other feeder birds.

No wonder they are a favorite feeder bird!

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch

What foods will attract White-breasted Nuthatches to your feeder?

For much of the yar, White-breasted Nuthatches are primarily insect eaters. But they switch to eating more seeds in fall and winter. 

Like many birds, they love black oil sunflower seeds. Offering black oil sunflower seeds at your feeder is the easiest way to attract them.

Then, again, they got their name from their habit of pounding open nuts, such as acorns. They fly to a branch and hold the nut with their large feet. Then they hack them open with pounding blows from their chisel-shaped bill. Nut-hack became nuthatch.

Peanut pieces or halves are also a favorite food. 

Likewise, they love peanut butter spread on bark.

They also are fond of eating suet.

White-breasted Nuthatches are especially fond of suet, especially in winter.

Here’s something perfect for White-breasted Nuthatches. It’s the Kaytee brand bird food with peanuts AND suet chunks.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch

What kind of feeders do White-breasted Nuthatches like?

White-breasted Nuthatches will eat at any kind of feeder. As mentioned, they take seeds on-at-a-time and fly away to eat them.

However, they can be intimidated by the squabbling sparrows. And the larger birds such as jays may keep them off the platform and hopper feeders.

Thus, the best feeder for White-breasted Nuthatches is a tube feeder. Fill a tube feeder with black oil sunflower seeds and the nuthatches will thank you by visiting regularly.

I really love the way my iBorn tube feeder looks, with it’s copper top.  A screw driver takes off the lower perch and opens it up for cleaning.

White-breasted Nuthatches love suet, as mentioned earlier. However, sometimes starlings and jays can take over a suet cage and keep smaller birds away. That’s when an upside-down suet feeder comes in handy. Jays, blackbirds, and starlings are thwarted, but chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, and woodpeckers can feed with ease.

I bought a Nature’s Way Upside-down suet feeder a couple years ago and have been very happy with it.

Where to place your bird feeder for White-breasted Nuthatches

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch

Larger and flocking birds at the feeder scare White-breasted Nuthatches. So they may sneak up to the feeder when other birds aren’t around. 

A tube feeder with black oil sunflower seeds will attract White-breasted Nuthatches if you set it up away from other bird feeders. 

These birds like to approach the feeder with caution. They don’t like to be out in the open Thus, set up your bird feeder near a tree or other staging perch. They will fly to the tree first, then when it’s safe, to the feeder.

How else can you attract White-breasted Nuthatches to your yard?

White-breasted Nuthatches are also attracted to water features and shallow bird baths.

White-breasted Nuthatches will nest in birdhouses. The hole diameter must be small (1-1/8 inches). “Bluebird boxes” have larger entrance holes (1-1/2 inches). Larger entrance holes are often taken over by House Sparrows and Starlings. The size of quarter dollar coin is the right size for White-breasted Nuthatches.

By providing a bird nest box, you may keep nuthatches in your yard in the spring and summer when they normally abandon the bird feeder.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch

Problems with White-breasted Nuthatches: If you have attracted too many to your feeder

It is unlikely that you’d ever have too many nuthatches at your feeder. 

However, in the later fall, they sometimes come all day to the feeder and take sunflower seeds away. They store these in knot holes or hide them away in crevices in the bark. This is called a cache.

They will eat these seeds later in the winter.

If this is the case, you may want to limit the number of seeds and nuts you offer. Feed only what the birds eat by late morning. Let the sunflower seed feeder go empty. Refill it in the evening or early morning.

Wrapping Up

We have all seen nuthatches working their way down trees. There are several reasons why they do this, which seems like an awkward and counterintuitive way to move:

1. Efficient foraging:

  • Nuthatches are bark foragers, searching for insects, spiders, and seeds hidden in crevices and under bark. Crawling down headfirst allows them to inspect bark more closely and reach into narrow spaces that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.
  • Their strong feet and sharp claws provide excellent grip, enabling them to maneuver skillfully on vertical surfaces.
  • This unique method allows them to explore every nook and cranny, maximizing their chance of finding hidden food sources that other birds might miss.

2. Different perspective:

  • By turning upside down, nuthatches gain a different perspective of the bark, potentially revealing hidden food items that wouldn’t be visible from a typical climbing position.
  • This alternative viewpoint might also help them spot predators approaching from above, enhancing their awareness and safety.

3. Avoiding competition:

  • Woodpeckers typically forage by climbing up trees, searching for food as they ascend.
  • By foraging headfirst, nuthatches avoid direct competition with woodpeckers and exploit a different niche in the bark-foraging ecosystem.
  • This unique strategy allows them to coexist peacefully and efficiently utilize food resources within their shared habitat.

4. Conservation of energy:

  • While it might seem strange, crawling down headfirst can actually be less energetically demanding than constantly hopping upwards.
  • This method allows them to use gravity to their advantage, reducing the need for constant muscle exertion and conserving energy for other activities like flight and food processing.

5. Evolutionary adaptation:

  • Over time, nuthatches have developed specialized physical adaptations that make them particularly adept at crawling down trees.
  • Their strong leg muscles, sharp claws, and flexible necks allow them to move with remarkable agility and control in this inverted position.
  • This unique skill provides them with a distinct advantage in foraging and competition, contributing to their success and survival as a species.

So, while crawling down trees headfirst might seem unusual, it’s a highly effective and well-adapted strategy that allows nuthatches to thrive in their environment. It’s a testament to the fascinating diversity and remarkable adaptations found in the natural world!

   White-breasted Nuthatch by Imogen Warren

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can you find White-breasted Nuthatch?

The White-breasted Nuthatch is a widespread and common bird found across much of North America. Here’s a breakdown of their typical habitat and range:

Habitat:

  • Primarily found in mature deciduous and mixed forests, where they have plenty of trees with rough bark for foraging.
  • Also found in parks, wooded suburbs, and even backyards with mature trees, offering suitable nesting and feeding opportunities.
  • Often frequent edges of forests, along rivers, and in clearings, where they can find a diverse range of food sources.

Range:

  • Breeds across southern Canada, the northern United States, and down to northern Florida.
  • Winters throughout most of its breeding range, with some southern populations remaining year-round.

Where do Nuthatches go in winter?

The answer to where nuthatches go in winter depends on the specific species. The White-breasted Nuthatch usually stay put:

  • These non-migratory birds stay within their breeding range throughout the year, including southern Canada, the northern United States, and down to northern Florida.
  • They might shift their range slightly in winter, moving to areas with more abundant food sources, such as mature forests with plenty of acorns and other mast.
  • You can still find them foraging on tree trunks and branches, even in cold weather, using their strong bills and claws to pry open bark and extract hidden insects and seeds.

What bird looks similar to a nuthatch?

Several birds share physical similarities with nuthatches, making them easy to confuse at first glance. Here are a few common lookalikes to keep in mind:

Chickadees:

  • Similarities: Both are small, gray-and-white birds with short necks and plump bodies. They often forage on tree trunks and branches, similar to nuthatches.
  • Differences: Chickadees have shorter, stubbier bills, lack the nuthatch’s distinctive black eye stripe, and have a higher-pitched “chick-a-dee” call.

Brown Creepers:

  • Similarities: Both have brown upperparts and white underparts, and they forage by spiraling up tree trunks, clinging to the bark.
  • Differences: Brown creepers are slimmer and longer than nuthatches, with a long, slender bill and a thin, down-curved tail. They also lack the nuthatch’s bold black eye stripe and distinctive calls.

Tufted Titmice:

  • Similarities: Both have gray upperparts and white underparts, and both have black markings on their heads (though the tufted titmouse has a distinctive crest).
  • Differences: Tufted titmice are slightly larger than nuthatches and have a rounder body shape. They also lack the nuthatch’s black eye stripe and have a slower, whistled “peter-peter-peter” call.

Bushtits:

  • Similarities: Both are small, gray-and-white birds with long tails and active foraging behavior.
  • Differences: Bushtits are smaller than nuthatches and have a more slender body shape. They also lack the nuthatch’s black eye stripe and have a high-pitched, warbling song and frequent “psit” calls.

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Why aren’t birds coming to your feeder?

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