Brown-headed Nuthatch

Look For

This tiny nuthatch has a brown cap and gray back with a white spot on the back of its neck and a bill that looks too large for the bird’s size. The brown-headed nuthatch is only 4 ½ inches long. It has a short tail and like other nuthatches, it often travels down a tree trunk, earning its nickname of “upside-down bird.”

Listen For

The brown-headed nuthatch squeaks like a mouse or a bathtub ducky and is often heard before it is seen. They normally utter a series of high, two-syllable squeaks: pyee-deet! pyee-deet! Also, it gives a single high queet! and a burbling series of squeaks.

Find It

A year-round resident of southeastern pine forests and one of the few birds found exclusively in the United States, the brown-headed nuthatch is often found in small family groups or in pairs during the breeding season. 

In winter they may join mixed feeding flocks. Also, it responds to “pishing” or the imitated calls of a screech-owl. It will bravely fly within inches of your face, which is in contrast to other birds that often cut and run. You can also lure it to your backyard feeding station with seeds, nuts, or suet.


The brown-headed nuthatch does not have persnickety nesting requirements other than a cavity that both sexes excavate. Sometimes, this nuthatch will use helpers at the nest such as an unattached male who will feed the female at the nest and feed her young after they’ve hatched.


This species uses a tool to get its food! The brown-headed nuthatch will hold a small piece of bark in its bill and pry up other pieces of bark to get to insects or insect eggs hidden underneath. It will also keep a storehouse of its food, which is very clever.

4 thoughts on “Brown-headed Nuthatch”

  1. I am in Wilson NC and just found one attending the weekly BirdBath Party at my place. Cute little thing, I thought it was a Kingfisher for a moment but a Kingfisher, here? in Wilson? Crazy. Guess the word has gone out about the party.

    1. Hi Ed, I’m confused. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if a brown-headed nuthatch attended your BirdBath Party, but a kingfisher? Not likely. While belted kingfishers are year-round residents of North Carolina, they don’t hang out in yards (except along rivers, and those with ponds), usually, because they eat fish, and likely bathe while they are collecting their meal. Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

      1. Not at all, don’t be confused, I suppose I was saying that this nuthatch looked like a kingfisher to me since I am a newbie at this and could easily confuse one for the other. I took up photography about 6 months ago and I would look up the details of any of my subjects before publishing. So that introduced me to birdwatching and here I am. Sometimes I think that my home is a bird sanctuary for the number and diversity of the birds which hang around. Now they have gotten to know me and as soon as I set foot outside, they would be all around. Thanks for your reply,

        1. Well, brown-headed nuthatches are less than 5 inches from bill-tip to tail-tip, while belted kingfishers are 13 inches long! Of course, size is impossible to tell in the photo above. Welcome to bird watching! Warning: It is addictive! Good job on making your yard so welcoming to the birds, and lucky you are to live in such a bird-rich location!

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