Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla Scientific name definitions

Gary L. Slater, John D. Lloyd, James H. Withgott, and Kimberly G. Smith
Version: 1.1 — Published August 18, 2021


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Figure 1. Generally coincides with the geographic range of southeastern pine forests on the Lower Coastal Plain (flatwoods), Upper Coastal Plain, and Piedmont regions of the se. U.S. Resident from e. Texas (http://txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/brown-headed-nuthatch/) and extreme se. Oklahoma (McCurtain Co.; Reinking 2004), east to the Atlantic Coast. Northern edge of range extends through w., central, and se. Arkansas (29, Figure 1) to nw. and extreme ne. Mississippi (Turcotte and Watts 1999), into extreme se. Tennessee (Hamilton, Bradley, and Van Buren Cos.; 30, 31), locally into w. North Carolina (west to Buncombe Co. [32] and Clay Co. [JHW]), and northeastward through the coastal plain of se. Virginia (L. Sausville pers. comm.), tidewater areas of se. Maryland (north to Talbot Co., mostly east of Chesapeake Bay; Ellison 2010; http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bba/index.cfm?fa=explore.ResultsBySpecies), to extreme s. Delaware (Sussex Co.; 33).

Found throughout e. North and South Carolina and Georgia, and into the uplands of Georgia and S. Carolina, up to 550–600 m (34, Schneider et al. 2010). South through Florida, but now largely absent from most counties near and southeast of Lake Okeechobee (22, B. Pranty pers. comm.). Throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but absent from Gulf Coast marshlands of s. Louisiana (35, 36). Highest breeding densities in Upper Coastal Plain (w. South Carolina, w. Georgia, central Florida, and s. Mississippi 34).

Although considered a sedentary species with limited dispersal, many extralimital reports exist. Renfrow (2003) describes details of 26 records either accepted by states' records committees or with credible details since 1850. These include specimens collected near Elmira, NY, 24 May 1888 (37), and near Boyertown, PA, 6 Sep 1894 (38); 1 bird photographed visiting a feeder in Milwaukee, WI, from Nov 1971 to Jan 1972 (39); and several sight records, some of which may be questionable, from Indiana (40), New Jersey (at Haddonfield in 1876; 41), and Pennsylvania (4 records, most recently 12 Aug 1903; 38).

Since 1997, 6 documented sightings have produced first or second state records: 4 wintering records observed at feeders, include Johnson Co., Kansas (Grzybowski 1998); Russell Co., Kentucky (Palmer-Ball 2003); Milwaukee Co., Wisconsin (Renfrow 2003); and ne. Ohio (Gilbert 2001); in addition, a summer record from Lake Co., IL, in the same tree where Red-cockaded Woodpecker was observed in a previous year (Semel 2002), and a summer record at Cape May Point, New Jersey (Crossley 2006).

Historical Changes to the Distribution

In U.S., historical range is roughly similar to that of today but has receded from s. Florida (42, 22, w. Tennessee (43) and se. Missouri (44), where it was affected by logging at the turn of the 19th century (45). Robbins and Easterla (44) term its history in Missouri “perplexing,” because it disappeared 40 yr before the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Dryobates borealis) disappeared, although suitable habitat seems to exist there today. Similarly, suitable habitat in Everglades National Park in s. Florida remained uncolonized until reintroduction efforts successfully established a population there (Lloyd et al. 2009). Formerly also more common and widespread in se. Oklahoma (46) and s. Delaware (33).

Breeding range expansion well-documented into Tennessee over the last 40 yr, especially northward along the Tennessee River (Hamilton, Knox, Roane, Putnam Cos. 30, 31, Renfrow 2003). Expansion in Tennessee coincided with a more moderate expansion from the Piedmont region into higher elevations of w. North Carolina (Buncombe, Clay, Polk Cos.) and w. Virginia (Botetourt, Montgomery, Augusta, Pulaski, Roanoke Cos.; 32, Renfrow 2003).

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Brown-headed Nuthatch, Abundance map
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Data provided by eBird

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla


Relative abundance is depicted for each season along a color gradient from a light color indicating lower relative abundance to a dark color indicating a higher relative abundance. Relative abundance is the estimated average count of individuals detected by an eBirder during a 1 hour, 1 kilometer traveling checklist at the optimal time of day for each species.   Learn more about this data

Relative abundance

Recommended Citation

Slater, G. L., J. D. Lloyd, J. H. Withgott, and K. G. Smith (2021). Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.bnhnut.01.1