Brown-headed Nuthatches

Brown-headed Nuthatch Nest Boxes

Brown-headed Nuthatches are one of our smallest Piedmont area birds at about 4 1/4 inches long. Like the larger White-breasted Nuthatch, they like to scramble down trees and nest in cavities. They are most at home in native pine trees like the Virginia Pine, where they eat pine seeds and insects. They like to utter a high-pitched two-note call that sounds like a rubber duck, but they also chatter a lot. Birders like to refer to them as “squeaky toys.”

David Disher photo

Populations of Brown-headed Nuthatches still are doing well in our area, but logging, fire suppression and development threaten their preferred habitat of pine woodlands. However, these little birds take well to man-made cavities aka nest boxes, and Forsyth Audubon has taken part in a statewide project to put up boxes for them. Audubon North Carolina’s had a goal of placing 10,000 of these boxes by 2015. Lee Williams served as volunteer coordinator for  the placement of 83 boxes at 13 locations: Tanglewood (15), Bethabara (10), Miller Park (5), Reynolda (10), Triad Park (9), Washington Park (3), Salem Lake (5),  Hathaway Park (4), Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden (4) and Old Town (5) and Winston Lake Golf Courses (8), Southside Library (3) and Summit School (2).

Lee Williams photo by Nita Colvin

These nuthatch boxes are the same as bluebird boxes, except that the entry hole is smaller – 1 or 1 1/8 inches, compared to 1 1/2 inches for a bluebird box. Bluebird boxes can be adapted by attaching a metal excluder with a smaller entrance. Preferred locations are open edges near some cone-bearing pine trees. Several volunteers helped Lee with the installation, with special mention to 10-year-old Hunter Linde.

Consider placing a nuthatch nest box in your own yard, as well. If you have a spare bluebird box, email for a free excluder or purchase one for about $3.50 at Wild Birds Unlimited or Wright’s Backyard Birding Center. Also, you can buy bluebird boxes at these stores or at State Employees Credit Union, or you can build your own with plans available from Audubon or the Bluebird Society. Sign up at and report what happens. With your permission, Audubon North Carolina would love to reproduce your photos or videos, too. Send them to Kim Brand.

Nancy Russo has coordinated the nuthatch box monitoring for a couple of years.  She has checked the boxes during the climate watch survey at Miller Park, Hathaway Park and Shaffner Park the last 2 years.  Target species in the climate watch survey is the brown headed nuthatch and white breasted nuthatch. Contact Nancy Russo (need to link to email) if you can help with Climate Watch surveys. Finally, keep tabs on the statewide project by subscribing to an on-line newsletter at