- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A permanent resident; the White-breasted Nuthatch was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Found throughout most of the United States and southern Canada. It is scarce in the central Great Plains states, except in woodlots and riparian habitats, and largely absent from the Great Basin and Sonoran Desert. It does not reach high densities anywhere within its range, although it is more abundant in the east-central United States from the Great Lakes south to Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 6/20 by Partners in Flight.
Permanent resident. Occasional reports of local movements of birds. For example, individuals will show up at feeders along the North Shore during the winter months even though they have not been present in the surrounding woods during the summer months (J. Green, pers. com.). Biologists speculate that these may represent young of the year moving outside of densely populated areas, but further investigation is needed.
Bark forager. Feeds primarily on insects during the summer. Seeds are important at other times of the year and are frequently cached within crevices and furrows in tree bark. Common visitor to bird feeders.
Secondary cavity user; nests typically placed in old woodpecker holes or natural cavities. Occasionally they will excavate to enlarge a hole but rarely excavate an entire new cavity on their own.
In the early 20th century, Roberts (1932) commented that the White-breasted Nuthatch was a common breeding resident “throughout the state wherever there is timber,” but it was more abundant in southern Minnesota. He went on to add that it “is one of our most familiar little birds, ever at home and busy among the shade trees of the city and the monarchs of the forest.” Confirmed nest records (nests with eggs) were available from Hennepin, Meeker, Scott, and Sherburne Counties. Inferred nesting records were reported in Marshall County (young out of nest) and Wadena County (nest building).
Many years later, Green and Janssen (1975) noted that the White-breasted Nuthatch was a permanent resident throughout the state but “very scarce and local during the breeding season in the northeastern region,” where confirmed breeding reports were lacking. Several years later, when Janssen (1987) provided an updated account of the species, nesting had been documented in St. Louis County (1974), in Lake County (1982), and in 27 other widely dispersed counties since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added 4 more counties to Janssen’s (1987) breeding distribution map.
The Minnesota Biological Survey has reported a total of 961 breeding season locations. Records were widely distributed throughout the state in all but the most intensively cultivated regions. Widely scattered records were also reported in the Arrowhead region of northeastern Minnesota, becoming increasingly scarce east of St. Louis County to the Canadian border (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
White-breasted Nuthatches were found statewide during the MNBBA with a total of 2,793 records. Observers reported the birds in 36.0% (1,707/4,744) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 46.7% (1,091/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 209 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were observed in all 87 counties and were confirmed breeding in 56 counties (Rice County was included because 1 block with confirmed nesting straddled both Rice and Dakota Counties). Confirmed and probable records were least frequent in southwestern Minnesota; no confirmed or probable records were reported in Cook County. In the Arrowhead region and far north-central Minnesota (i.e., Koochiching and Lake of the Woods Counties) the Red-breasted Nuthatch surpasses the White-breasted Nuthatch in abundance.
The MNBBA predicted breeding distribution map (Figure 4) predicts that the species is moderately abundant in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province. Throughout the state, scattered pockets of abundance also are predicted along major rivers, including the Mississippi River, the Minnesota River, and major drainages throughout southern and northwestern Minnesota. The species is also predicted to be moderately abundant throughout the western and southern reaches of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province.
As Roberts (1932) wrote nearly 100 years ago, the White-breasted Nuthatch is a common species wherever woodlands can be found. Although it remains least common in the most heavily cultivated regions of the state, as well as in far northeastern and north-central Minnesota, it likely is more abundant in the northern forest region than it was a century ago. As the old-growth pine stands have declined and the landscape has become more developed, the forests have become more fragmented and more dominated by aspen-birch. These changes likely provided more opportunities for the deciduous-loving White-breasted Nuthatch to move farther into the densely forested landscape of northern Minnesota.
Elsewhere in its breeding range, few large-scale changes in distribution have been noted (Grubb and Pravosudov 2008). In Michigan, the species was considered rare in the extensively forested Upper Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century. However, during both of the state’s breeding bird atlases, White-breasted Nuthatches were widely distributed throughout the Upper Peninsula (Chartier et al. 2013). The number of blocks where they were reported during the second atlas (2002–2008) increased by 6% above the number reported during their first atlas (1983–1988). In Ontario, the probability of detecting White-breasted Nuthatches increased by 19% between the first (1981–1985) and second atlas (2001–2005), and the species’ range also expanded to the north. Milder winters and the popularity of winter bird feeding were thought to be responsible for the province-wide increase (Cadman et al. 2007). In Wisconsin, present-day populations are considered possibly larger than they were historically, but the species’ statewide distribution has remained unchanged (Cutright et al. 2006).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.