Family Nuthatches (Sittidae)

Least Concern

Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea)


French: Sittelle pygmée German: Zwergkleiber Spanish: Trepador enano

Sitta pygmæa


, 1839,

Monterey, California, USA


Sometimes considered conspecific with S. pusilla, but differs in e.g. plumage, vocalizations and various aspects of biology. Together, the two have sometimes been considered closely related to S. himalayensis. Recent molecular phylogeny of Sitta recovered present species as sister to S. pusilla, and these two as sister to the clade containing the “S. canadensis group”#R. Geographical variation slight; in particular, all Mexican races apparently very similar (chihuahuae often merged with melanotis and elii only tentatively considered distinct, so taxonomic revision possibly needed. In California (SW USA), melanotis intergrades with nominate (on Mt Howell, in Napa County) and with leuconucha (in region of San Bernardino Mts). Proposed race canescens, described from Lee Canyon, in Charleston Mts (Nevada), in SW USA, considered indistinguishable from melanotis. Seven subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. p. melanotis van Rossem, 1929 – extreme SW Canada (S British Columbia), and mountains of W USA (Cascades, Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mts and desert ranges of Great Basin) S to California (Riverside County) and E to W Montana, SW South Dakota (Black Hills), W Nebraska (Pine Ridge area), NW Colorado (Douglas Mts), New Mexico and W Texas (Davis Mts, Guadalupe Mts), also extreme N Mexico in NE Sonora (San José Mts) and NW Coahuila (Sierra del Carmen).
  • S. p. pygmaea Vigors, 1839 – C coastal California (from Mendocino County S to San Luis Obispo County).
  • S. p. leuconucha Anthony, 1889 – mountains of extreme S California (S of San Bernardino Mts) and extreme NW Mexico (Sierra de Juárez and Sierra San Pedro Mártir, in N Baja California).
  • S. p. chihuahuae van Rossem, 1929 – NW Mexico at scattered sites in Sierra Madre Occidental from S Sonora and W Chihuahua S to Nayarit, SW Durango, NW Zacatecas and N Jalisco (S to Santa Teresa and Guadalajara).
  • S. p. elii A. R. Phillips, 1986 – N & NC Mexico in Sierra Madre Oriental, SE Coahuila (SE of Saltillo) and SW Nuevo León (Cerro Potosí).
  • S. p. brunnescens Norris, 1958 – SW Mexico in S & W Jalisco (Sierra Nevada de Colima), Colima and SW Michoacán; possibly also NE Nayarit.
  • S. p. flavinucha van Rossem, 1939 – E & C Mexico in W Veracruz (Las Vigas, Pico Orizaba), Distrito Federal, Morelos and W Puebla (Cerro San Miguel, Volcán Ajusco, La Cima, Popocatépetl). Probably this race recorded in SC Oaxaca#R (Mexico).
  • Descriptive notes

    11 cm; averages 9·3–11·4g. A very small nuthatch with brownish cap. Nominate race has crown to upper mantle brownish-olive, paler spot in centre of upper... read more


    Noisy. Call a clear, high-pitched, rapid “kit-kit, kit-kit…”, “pit-pit,... read more


    Almost exclusively in forests of long-needled pines, distribution closely paralleling that of... read more

    Food and feeding

    Food in summer mainly insects and spiders (Araneae), in autumn and winter shifting to variable extent to pine seeds; young fed principally... read more


    Season Apr to early Aug in USA, possibly slightly earlier in S Mexico; very occasionally double-brooded (probably all dates after Jun refer... read more


    Mainly resident; limited seasonal altitudinal movements by montane populations irregularly Jul... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common in much of range, and locally abundant. In N of range, uncommon in Canada (British Colombia) and in US states of Washington, Montana and... read more

    Recommended citation

    Harrap, S. (2019). Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea). 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 25 June 2019).