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White-breasted Nuthatch, Ian Routley
Photo © Ian Routley

Photo: Ian Routley
Breeding evidence - White-breasted Nuthatch
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - White-breasted Nuthatch
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - White-breasted Nuthatch
Elevation plot

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White-breasted Nuthatch
Sitta carolinensis
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
350 - 1357 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
47 20 106 49
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 2.16 (-1.3 - 6.26)Low
Canada1970 - 2012 2.89 (1.86 - 4.16)High

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
 0.02 0.090.07  
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
   0.02  0.06
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.040.12 0.09   

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.06 0.03 
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range This nuthatch, easily distinguished from other nuthatches in British Columbia by its large size and white face and breast, may in fact comprise up to four separate species, two of which currently breed in British Columbia (Spellman and Klicka 2007, Walstrom et al. 2012). It is resident in a wide variety of forested habitats across North America, from the southern edge of the Boreal Forest to the Mexican Sierra Madre (Grubb and Pravosudov 2008).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Two distribution clusters are found within British Columbia: one in the northeast, of the eastern clade; the other in the southern interior, of the Great Basin and northern Rocky Mountain clade (Grubb and Pravosudov 2008). The Atlas surveys documented a more widespread distribution in the Peace River Basin, and more records in the central interior, than were known when The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1997. This is likely the continuation of a long-term expansion; Campbell et al. (1997) noted that central British Columbian records may represent an expanding population from the Peace region. The southern interior population is found in dry valleys of the Okanagan, Similkameen Thompson, Fraser, and Nicola rivers, and in the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench; its distribution has changed little since publication of The Birds of British Columbia.

The Probability of Observation model indicated that within the Southern Interior, Southern Interior Mountain, and Boreal Plains ecoprovinces, the bird is most likely to be found in lowlands and valleys. It was recorded on relatively few point counts; this small sample shows highest abundance between 350 and 750 m elevation, and abundance in the Southern Interior Ecoprovince is higher than in the Boreal Plains Ecoprovince.

In southern British Columbia, this species is associated with open, mature and old-growth forests of Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and Western Larch (Larix occidentalis), and to a lesser degree deciduous and mixed forest, up to 1,360 m, slightly higher than noted in Campbell et al. (1997). The Peace region population is closely associated with mature deciduous and mixed bottomland forest where Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides) and Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera) are present, and avoids boreal coniferous forest (Grubb and Pravosudov 2008, Campbell et al. 1997).

Conservation and Recommendations There are few conservation concerns for this species as the populations in the province are either stable or increasing (Environment Canada 2011). The population in southern British Columbia nests primarily in mature and old-growth forest, which has been heavily affected by logging and the recent Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreak (Klenner et al. 2008). However, while loss of mature and old-growth forest to Mountain Pine Beetle or fire may continue, forest age may not act as a limiting factor for this species (Flannigan and van Wagner 1990). The population in the Peace region and central interior has been expanding for decades.

Mike Boyd

Recommended citation: Boyd, M. 2015. White-breasted Nuthatch in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Apr 2024]

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