Family Nuthatches (Sittidae)

Least Concern

Eastern Rock Nuthatch (Sitta tephronota)


French: Sittelle des rochers German: Klippenkleiber Spanish: Trepador rupestre oriental
Other common names: Persian Nuthatch

Sitta tephronota


, 1872,

Kokand, Fergana, east Uzbekistan


Closely related to S. neumayer, which see. They probably became fully ecologically isolated from each other when geographically separated, present species adapting to continental conditions (colder winters and hotter summers) that favoured a larger body and bill, and S. neumayer to a less extreme Mediterranean climate. When coming into contact again, in S Iran, a process of what is termed “character displacement” selected for a bolder eyestripe and larger body size in present species; overlap zone in N Iran perhaps more recent, and the two may not have diverged sufficiently to permit altitudinal coexistence. Race obscura sometimes treated as a separate species, but intergrades with dresseri in Iranian Azerbaijan and with nominate in NE & SE Iran, probably also with iranica in E Elburz Mts (N Iran). Birds in upper Aras Valley (NE Turkey) and mountains of WC & SE Iran (Qom, Anarak Massif and Yazd E to Jebal Barez; also S Sistan and Baluchistan) of uncertain racial identity, provisionally placed with obscura; likewise, birds in Khorasan area of NE Iran provisionally included in iranica. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. t. dresseri Zarudny & Buturlin, 1906 – SE Turkey (E from Gaziantep) E locally to Iranian Azerbaijan, S to N Iraq (Kurdistan) and W Iran (S in Zagros Mts to Fars and E to Hamadan and Esfahan).
  • S. t. obscura Zarudny & Loudon, 1905 – NE Turkey (upper Aras Valley), S Armenia, S Azerbaijan and N, WC & S Iran (E in Elburz Mts to N Khorasan; also mountains in Qom, Anarak Massif and Yazd E to Jebal Barez; also Baluchistan and Sistan).
  • S. t. iranica (Buturlin, 1916) – S Turkmenistan and NE Iran, also C Uzbekistan (isolated mountains in C Kyzylkum Desert).
  • S. t. tephronota Sharpe, 1872 – extreme E Turkmenistan (Kugitangtau Mts, Karabil’ Plateau), S Uzbekistan and SE Kazakhstan S in mountains to NE Iran (N Khorasan), Afghanistan and W Pakistan (S Waziristan S to N Baluchistan).
  • Descriptive notes

    15–16 cm; 42·7–55 g (dresseri). A medium-large to large, relatively pale nuthatch with long, heavy bill. Nominate race in fresh plumage (Sept–Feb/Mar... read more


    Very vocal, with loud, often trilling calls throughout year, perhaps least frequently in autumn and... read more


    Rocky mountain slopes and valleys, cliffs, ravines and gorges; may prefer vicinity of streams, and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Food in summer largely insects and snails (Gastropoda); from autumn to early spring mainly seeds, such as those of apricot (Prunus... read more


    Season from late Feb/mid-Mar in S Tajikistan, SE Iran and Pakistan, from late Mar/Apr in Transcaucasus and Turkmenistan, and from late Apr... read more


    Resident; perhaps some post-breeding dispersal from about Aug onwards, and limited altitudinal... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Generally fairly common in suitable habitat. Common in Afghanistan and Pakistan; apparently scarce in Armenia. A few data on densities, e.g. c. 1... read more

    Recommended citation

    Harrap, S. (2020). Eastern Rock Nuthatch (Sitta tephronota). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 6 April 2020).