Tiny Tool-user of the Southeast Forests:
Brown-headed Nuthatch


Brown-headed Nuthatch by Bill Hubick

Although tool use is rare among birds, the tiny, quick-moving Brown-headed Nuthatch is an exception: It can often be observed using a piece of bark to pry up loose bark in search of insects. The bird may carry this “tool” from tree to tree as it forages and even use it to cover up caches of seeds.


This nuthatch’s call is a series of high-pitched squeaky notes, sounding somewhat like a rubber-ducky bathtub toy. A flock of them can sound like bath time gone wild!

Nests of Brown-headed Nuthatches, usually excavated in snags, are regularly attended by extra birds, often young males that may be older offspring of the breeding pair. After breeding, these social nuthatches gather in groups of a dozen or more and move through the woods in mixed flocks with woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and Pine Warblers.


The species’ population is suffering the effects of logging and fragmentation in southeastern pine forests. Fire suppression may also negatively affect the Brown-headed Nuthatch by reducing the number of snags and enabling dense understory growth.



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