Common Name

Scientific Name

Photo by Dick Cannings
Photo Copyright Dick Cannings

The pygmy nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea, is a permanent resident of pine forests in the Pacific Northwest, coastal and western California, parts of the American Southwest, and in the highlands of central Mexico. It is a common permanent resident of the ponderosa pine forests of southern and eastern Utah. Like other nuthatches, the pygmy nuthatch is a tree-climber that forages for insects along the branches of trees. It also eats seeds, which are opened with its strong bill; individuals cache seeds for the winter.

Males and females form long-term monogamous pair bonds, but they also engage in cooperative breeding. Their breeding units are comprised of two to five individuals, and include the mated pair and unmated male helpers. The helpers are typically offspring of the mated pair from the previous breeding season, and they assist in nest building, the feeding of the female, and the care of the nestlings and fledglings. The breeding unit excavates a nest cavity in a dead pine tree and then lines it with soft materials, such as shredded bark, hair, and feathers. The female incubates her clutch of four to eight eggs for about fifteen days. The young are born naked and blind, and all members of the breeding unit feed the young. The chicks leave the nest after about three weeks, but they still receive care for some time thereafter. Pairs with helpers typically fledge more young than do unaided pairs.


  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.