Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Brown-headed Nuthatch - Sitta pusilla
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General Comments The Brown-headed Nuthatch, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and the Bachman's Sparrow are the signature birds of the mature, open longleaf pine stands of the Coastal Plain of the Southeast. Unlike those two, however, the nuthatch occurs in the Piedmont (in large numbers), whereas the woodpecker and the sparrow are essentially restricted to the Coastal Plain. Unlike the Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches, the Brown-headed is completely nonmigratory. It occurs in North Carolina throughout the Coastal Plain, essentially throughout the Piedmont, and in a few of the southern mountain counties, at lower elevations (as a recent colonizer). Favored habitats are mature and open longleaf pine stands, such as savannas, flatwoods, and drier sandhills; however, they also are at least locally common in open loblolly, shortleaf, and pond pine stands, less so in Virginia pine. In the Piedmont, the birds are not numerous in mature loblolly pine stands, but favor thinned or more open pine stands, such as in residential areas, golf courses, margins of lakes and ponds, and edges. Mountain populations are in open shortleaf pine stands, for the most part. In the winter, as with other nuthatches, most are found with chickadees, titmice, warblers, Brown Creepers, and Downy Woodpeckers in mixed-species flocks.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Permanent resident; nonmigratory. Common in the Sandhills and other areas in the southern portions dominated by longleaf pine (i.e., north to Fort Bragg and Croatan National Forest). Fairly common in the northern two-thirds of the province, with the exception of being absent in Buxton Woods and a few other coastal island forests. Peak counts:
Piedmont Permanent resident; nonmigratory. Common along the extreme eastern and southern portions, but mostly fairly common in the remainder of the southeastern two-thirds of the province; uncommon in the northern and western third of the province (i.e., west of Forsyth and Mecklenburg), including the foothills. Peak counts:
Mountains Scarce permanent resident; apparently nonmigratory. Formerly did not occur/breed in the province; first records around 1970. Currently, locally uncommon in Buncombe, mainly within a few miles of the French Broad River. A few records in Madison close to the river. Also, rare to locally uncommon in the southwestern corner of the region, in Macon, Clay, and Cherokee. Oddly, not yet recorded from heavily birded Henderson or Transylvania; perhaps suitable open pine stands are very rare. Almost certainly a stray in the northern counties, where one was seen at a feeder in Boone (Watauga) on 26-27 Nay 2020. Peak counts: 8, Lake Chatuge (Clay) area, 25 May 2002.
Finding Tips This species is almost always found in a morning of birding in longleaf pine forests. Weymouth Woods preserve near Southern Pines, the Sandhills Game Land, Holly Shelter Game Land (US 17 side), and Croatan National Forest (Millis Road Savanna) are good places.
Attribution LeGrand[2020-08-03], LeGrand[2020-03-17], LeGrand[2014-11-09]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.