Head South to See a Brown Headed Nuthatch

Learn how to identify a brown headed nuthatch. See photos of what these birds look like, find out what they eat and where to spot them.

What Do Brown Headed Nuthatches Look Like?

brown headed nuthatchCourtesy Darrell Smith
Brown headed nuthatch eating a sunflower seed

The size, shape and plumage of the brown headed nuthatch is nearly identical to a pygmy nuthatch. Look for a brown cap, gray back and a pale throat. The best way to tell the difference between these birds is by their range. These small, short-tailed songbirds are very acrobatic and can hang upside down and walk up and down tree trunks. They measure about four inches long.

Brown Headed Nuthatch Nest

brown headed nuthatchCourtesy Martin Bozone

Like other nuthatches, the brown headed nuthatch nests in tree cavities. “I saw a pair of nuthatches carving their cavity nest in a dead branch of a Japanese cherry tree. So the next day I went out to try to capture this busy bird couple. I enjoy their size and energy, and it was a blast seeing them chip out this nest,” says Martin Bozone.

Psst—watch your fall feeders for a red breasted nuthatch.

Brown Headed Nuthatch Call

brown headed nuthatchCourtesy Steve Shattles

You may hear these talkative birds before you see them. The call of this nuthatch, ki-dee, sounds like a rubber duck squeaking.

Meet the white breasted nuthatch: the upside down bird.

What Do Brown Headed Nuthatches Eat?

Their diet mainly consists of insects and pine seeds. They may visit bird feeders for seeds, nuts and suet, but the best way to attract them is by planting native pine trees. “It’s a pleasure to spot brown headed nuthatches foraging among the pine needles and tree bark for seeds and insects. Very few birds use tools, but these nuthatches often pry bark up from a tree using another piece of bark to search for insects. They are active feeders, moving up, down and around trees very quickly, which means photographing them can be quite a challenge. Just watching them always brings a smile to my face,” says Michael Fitzgerald of Merritt Island, Florida.

Discover the 4 foods nuthatches love to eat.

Range and Habitat

According to the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, look for these brown headed nuthatches in the pine forests of the southeast, from eastern Texas to the Carolinas. They are nonmigratory in their range, travel in pairs or small groups, and often stay in the treetops.

Next, check out 15 common backyard birds you should know.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.