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Nuthatches are probably one of the easiest backyard birds to identify. If you see a bird creeping downward on a tree, it’s a nuthatch. It’s the only species that can “walk down a tree.” It needs no tail support because it has incredibly strong feet!
That said, generally you won’t see too many nuthatches in your yard. Most nuthatches visit feeders in ones and twos. They are feisty and aggressive birds, and pairs generally defend a territory of 10 to 30 acres. They feast on seeds and insects found in trees, and many times will hide seeds from feeders in tree bark for a snack later in the day or breakfast the next morning.
Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches are the most common visitors to feeders in North America. They enjoy suet, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Red-breasted Nuthatches are pickier than White-breasted Nuthatches, and their diet is made up mainly of conifer seeds. During years when these seeds aren’t plentiful, Red-breasted Nuthatches will move south (or irrupt) in search of food.
Pygmy Nuthatches live in ponderosa forests in the West and survive the bitter winter nights by roosting with 50 to 100 or more other Pygmy Nuthatches in tree cavities. With so many birds in the cavity, they stay warm and can lower their metabolic rate to conserve energy.
Another species, Brown-headed Nuthatches, live primarily in the Southeast United States in mature pine forests. These birds live in flocks, although they do not have the “sleepovers” the Pygmy Nuthatches have.
To attract nuthatches to your yard, try a suet or peanut feeder as well as a blend high in sunflower.