Bird watching: red-breasted nuthatch

Self-tutoring about birds: the tutor reports a great sighting.

I’ve mentioned in a few other posts that my best bird discoveries have been when I wasn’t looking for that bird. This is one such case: I didn’t have the red-breasted nuthatch on my mind.

I’ve also mentioned that, very often, I don’t see a new bird until I’ve heard it. Such also was this case. I’ve been hearing this new call for awhile now – I’d describe it as a repeating single tone, with rests in between, like a pleasant-sounding alarm from a timer. The tones might come in sets of 5 or so. When this call is happening, I don’t hear anything else. It’s piercing.

I’d no idea what bird makes that call. However, yesterday, working in the yard, a little bird suddenly flitted to a tree in front of me. It walked up and down the tree’s trunk, rather than perching on a branch. I was on a deck, and the bird was just above the level of my head, maybe twenty feet elevated from the ground below. Therefore, the bird was very close to me. There was no doubt it was making a point of visiting.

The bird’s breast was light peach (not red), while its wings and back were light blue-grey. Its head was black, with a very distinct white stripe over its eye. For the bird’s size, its beak was long.

Often, a bird you see in real life isn’t so handsome as its picture in the guide. This was the opposite case, though: this bird was better-looking than any picture I’ve seen of a red-breasted nuthatch.

I can’t recall seeing a red-breasted nuthatch any other time, yet they seem friendly, with a distinct song, and handsome. They’re quite small – I’d compare them with a chickadee as the familiar bird they’re most like. I think the reason I’ve never noticed a red-breasted nuthatch is that they cling to the tree trunk itself, rather than perching.

The red-breasted nuthatch lives in all the provinces across the southern half of Canada. Interestingly, in may leave extreme southern Ontario and the southern prairies to breed, but it does winter in both those areas. You’ll find it in mixed forests and also suburbs, but it likes mature trees.


Hoar, De Smet, et al. Birds of Canada. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing, 2010.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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