WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH

Sitta carolinensis carolinensis, S. c. nelsoni

Status:  Common regular resident east, central, and northwest. Uncommon regular winter visitor statewide.

Documentation:  Specimens: carolinensis: UNSM ZM11608, 23 Mar 1895 Lancaster Co; nelsoni: UNSM ZM6557, 14 Jun 1901 Warbonnet Canyon, Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  Pyle (1997) and Clements et al (2016) recognized nine subspecies, four of which occur in Mexico; the others are: aculeata of coastal southwest British Columbia to southwest California, tenuissima of southeast British Columbia to western Wyoming, wintering to New Mexico and Kansas, nelsoni from Montana to Arizona east to eastern Wyoming, southwest South Dakota, and northwestern Nebraska, south to western Oklahoma and western Texas, oberholseri of southwest Texas, and carolinensis from Saskatchewan and southeast Texas to New Brunswick and Florida.

Grubb and Pravosudov (2008) divided the subspecies into three “call” groups: Eastern US and Canada birds, uttering a nasal “yenk”, Great Basin and Rocky Mountains birds a rapid “yijijijijiji”, and Pacific Slope birds a high-pitched, drawn-out “yaarn”. These call groups are genetically distinguishable (Spellman and Klicka 2007).

In Nebraska, nelsoni of the Rocky Mountains Group breeds on the Pine Ridge, and carolinensis of the Eastern Group in the rest of the state (AOU 1957). Pyle (1997) suggested that since movement patterns of this species are poorly known, unexpected subspecies might occur during winter. Most likely would be tenuissima, which winters southeastward to Kansas (Pyle 1997).

Northern birds within the range of carolinensis were previously assigned to cookei, which was merged with carolinensis as their differences were clinal (Pyle 1997); Phillips (1986), however, retained them as separate taxa, cookei averaging larger.

Summering individuals reported recently in deciduous woodland along the North Platte River have been identified as cookei (=carolinensis).  Three at Riverside Park, Scottsbluff, 24 Aug 2002 gave eastern calls, as did two there 16 Mar 2005, one at Lake Minatare, Scotts Bluff Co 17 May 2002, and one at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 1 Sep.

Changes Since 2000: Reports have increased since 2000 west of Lake McConaughy in the North Platte River Valley as far as Scotts Bluff Co suggesting continued expansion westward by carolinensis.

Resident: White-breasted Nuthatch is generally understood to be sedentary, although its movements are poorly known. It is, however, a rare to uncommon winter visitor in areas of Nebraska where it does not occur in summer, noticeably in western towns, cities, and river valleys wherever large trees are present. See Winter.

Published records of breeding (Ducey 1988) and reports of occurrence in summer months reflect the preference of this species for mature woodland in the eastern parts of Nebraska, the Niobrara River Valley, eastern Platte and Republican River Valleys, and in ponderosa pine woodland on the Pine Ridge. There is a sharp decline in numbers away from these habitats, although recent reports suggest some range expansion.

The western subspecies nelsoni breeds on the Pine Ridge, where it is common (Rosche 1982). This is the only breeding location known in Nebraska for this subspecies. Summer reports from the Wildcat Hills, Scotts Bluff and Banner Cos are few but recent, suggesting that a breeding population might establish, although subspecies has not been reported; these reports are 11 Jun 2016 in Carter Canyon, two there 12 Jun 2014, 3 Jul 2000 along Stage Hill Road, and 8 Jul 2017 and 17 Jul 2005 at Wildcat Hills NC. Reports 10 Mar and 10 Apr 1996 may have been of winter visitors.

Recent reports from Sheridan Co near to and south of the Pine Ridge are suggestive of some range expansion: one was at the Highway 27 crossing of the Niobrara River 18 Jun 2017, and singles were in Gordon 1 and 9 Jul 2017.

This species is common to uncommon westward along the Niobrara River Valley wherever deciduous woodland occurs (Brogie and Mossman 1983); westernmost reports are from northeast Cherry Co: Steer Creek Campground, NNF McKelvie 3 Jun 2017, NNF McKelvie 5 Jun 2011, Road 16F at the Niobrara River 14 Jun 2015, and Merritt Reservoir 12 Jul 2016, as well as several reports from Valentine NWR and numerous records from the Valentine area. At least one bird was noted at Smith Lake, Sheridan Co, 30 Aug 1998, located on a tributary of the Niobrara River, and an occupied nest has been found there.

It breeds throughout the Loup drainage, west to Thomas Co, where it is an “uncommon permanent resident” (Bray 1994); there are isolated sightings about 12 miles west of Callaway in Custer Co 22 Jul 2001 and between Stapleton and North Platte in Lincoln Co 17 Jul 2015.

White-breasted Nuthatches breed regularly westward in the North Platte River Valley to the Lake McConaughy area and into northeast Colorado in the South Platte River Valley. Expansion of the range westward in the North Platte Valley from Lake McConaughy is recent. It was reported at Oshkosh, Garden Co 15 Jul 1987 (Rosche 1994) and earliest reports in Scotts Bluff Co were at Stateline Island WMA 29 Jun and 9 Jul 1994 and 23 Aug 1996. Birds seen at Lake Minatare, Scotts Bluff Co 6-7 Sep 1997 were “probably breeding”, and one taking food from a feeder in Ogallala, Keith Co 13-14 May 2010 may have been feeding young. There are several recent reports from Scotts Bluff Co May-Aug 2003-2017.

Rosche (1994) stated that it bred in the Republican River Valley west to Dundy Co, apparently a somewhat recent phenomenon, as Ludlow (1935) considered it only a “winter visitor and rare spring migrant” in Webster Co. Currently it breeds throughout the Republican River Valley (eBird.org, accessed Oct 2017).

Breeding Phenology:
Eggs: 29 Apr-28 May
Nestlings: 20 May-14 Jun
Fledglings: 21 May-20 Jul

Winter:  Sep 10,12,14 <<<>>> May 16,20,26

The dates above are from areas where the species is not known to breed. There are earlier dates 3 Sep 1995 and 5 Sep 2012 at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co and 6 Sep 2016 Bushnell, Kimball Co.

While nuthatches are usually considered sedentary, some may disperse in fall to areas where the species may be rare or absent as a breeder (Phillips 1986). There are several reports of the Pine Ridge breeding subspecies nelsoni away from the breeding range, mostly directly southward: 14 Sep 2013 Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co, 16 Sep 2007 Lake Minatare, 20 Sep 2003 near Bushnell, and 29 Sep 2012 Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co. Birds in the Scottsbluff area 14 Dec 2002 and 20 Dec 2003 were identified as carolinensis, demonstrating that both subspecies may occur in areas of the Panhandle where they do not breed.  The possibility of Pacific Slope tenuissima occurring in winter is discussed above.

Comparing eBird maps (eBird.org, accessed 11 October 2016) for White-breasted Nuthatch for Jun-Jul to those for Dec-Feb indicates a noticeable increase in winter reports into the Platte and South Platte River Valleys. Even in areas where White-breasted Nuthatches do breed, reports are more numerous in the winter months than in summer, suggesting that there is movement into or within the state at that time.

Abbreviations
NC: Nature Center
NNF: Nebraska National Forest
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)

Acknowledgement

Photograph (top) of a White-breasted Nuthatch at Neale Woods, Douglas Co 22 Jan 2008 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1957. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 5th ed.  Port City Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Bray, T.E., B.K. Padelford, and W.R. Silcock. 1986. The birds of Nebraska: A critically evaluated list. Published by the authors, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA.

Brogie, M.A., and M.J. Mossman. 1983. Spring and summer birds of the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska: An annotated checklist. NBR 51: 44-51.

Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2016. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2016, accessed 30 January 2018.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Grubb Jr., T.C. and V.V. Pravosudov. 2008. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.54

Ludlow, C.S. 1935. A quarter-century of bird migration records at Red Cloud, Nebraska. NBR 3: 3-25.

Phillips, A.R. 1986. The known birds of North and Middle America. Part 1. Published by the author, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Spellman, G.M., and J. Klicka. 2007. Phylogeography of the white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis): diversification in North American pine and oak woodlands. Molecular Ecology 16: 1729-1740.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2018.  White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org


Birds of Nebraska – Online