Family Nuthatches (Sittidae)

Least Concern

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)


French: Sittelle à poitrine blanche German: Weißbrustkleiber Spanish: Trepador pechiblanco

Sitta carolinensis


, 1790,

in America, Jamaica = South Carolina, USA


Bears a superficial resemblance to S. leucopsis and S. przewalskii, but most recent genetic study recovered the present species as sister to S. magna#R. Geographical variation relatively slight and largely clinal, upperparts (and, to lesser extent, underparts) on average darkest in Rocky Mts and Mexico, becoming paler towards W and especially E coasts; race alexandrae sometimes merged with tenuissima, and oberholseri with nelsoni; population in NE of range (E Canada and NE USA) sometimes separated as race cookei, with slightly paler back, and with most females pale-capped, but differences from nominate clinal and/or not constant. However, molecular phylogenies based on mitochondrial and nuclear datasets have recovered clear evidence of four geographical groupings: (1) E North America, (2) S Rocky Mts and Mexican mountains, (3) E Sierra Nevada and N Rocky Mts and (4) Pacific slope of North America#R#R. Proposed race atkinsi from SE USA (Tarpon Springs, in Florida) synonymized with nominate, and N Mexican umbrosa (from Sierra Madre near Guadalupe y Calvo, in SW Chihuahua) with mexicana, within which kinneari is sometimes also subsumed. Nine subspecies recognized.

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Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. c. aculeata Cassin, 1856 – Pacific White-breasted Nuthatch – W Washington, W Oregon and W California (Pacific lowlands W of Cascades, and crest of Sierra Nevada and mountains in S), and extreme NW Mexico (Sierra de Juárez, in extreme N Baja California).
  • S. c. alexandrae Grinnell, 1926 – N Baja California Norte (Sierra San Pedro Mártir).
  • S. c. tenuissima Grinnell, 1918 – SW Canada (S British Columbia S from Lillooet), and W USA in Cascades of E Washington and Oregon, W Montana, W Wyoming, Idaho, C & W Nevada, and E California (generally E of Sierra Nevada, S to Inyo County).
  • S. c. lagunae Brewster, 1891 – Interior White-breasted Nuthatch – extreme S Baja California (Sierra de San Lázaro).
  • S. c. nelsoni Mearns, 1902 – Rocky Mts from N Montana S to E Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, W Colorado, Arizona (except SW deserts), W New Mexico, extreme W Oklahoma and W Texas (Davis and Guadalupe Mts), and N Mexico (NE Sonora and extreme NW Chihuahua).
  • S. c. oberholseri H. W. Brandt, 1938 – SW Texas (Chisos Mts) and NE Mexico (N Sierra Madre Oriental S to W Nuevo León and, probably, interior SW Tamaulipas.
  • S. c. mexicana Nelson & Palmer, 1894 – W, C & S Mexico in Sierra Madre Occidental and associated ranges from SE Sonora and C Chihuahua S to Jalisco, Michoacán, Hidalgo, Puebla and WC Veracruz (Jalapa, Mt Citlaltépetl), and S Sierra Madre Oriental from C Nuevo León (Gulf slope) and SE Coahuila S to SW Tamaulipas and E San Luis Potosí.
  • S. c. kinneari van Rossem, 1939 – S Mexico in Guerrero and Oaxaca (Sierra Madre del Sur).
  • S. c. carolinensis Latham, 1790 – Eastern White-breasted Nuthatch – C & E Canada from C & S Alberta (S from Lesser Slave L), SE Saskatchewan (S & E from Prince Albert), S Manitoba (S from Swan R and Winnipeg) and extreme SW & SE Ontario E to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (including Prince Edward I and Cape Breton I), and S in USA to Gulf Coast and C Florida (E from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and E Texas).
  • Descriptive notes

    15·5 cm; 19·6–22·9 g. A medium-large nuthatch with white face and underparts, and straight or slightly upturned long bill. Male nominate race in... read more


    Contact call, given all year but especially in autumn and winter, a soft, thin, relatively high-... read more


    In E parts of range, primarily mature open deciduous forest, also mixed forest, e.g. maple-hemlock-... read more

    Food and feeding

    Food in summer largely insects and spiders (Araneae), and young may be fed entirely with animal items; in autumn and winter largely... read more


    Season usually rather early, e.g. from late Apr in Canada (Ontario), and in USA mid-Apr to May in N & E (North Dakota, New York and... read more


    Generally sedentary; some retreat from extreme N parts of range and from high altitudes (notably in... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common in much of range; uncommon to rare on edges of range. Commonest in NE USA and in some areas along R Mississippi; relatively uncommon in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Harrap, S. (2020). White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). 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).