Information provided by: Avian Contributor: Jeannine Miesle
The Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) dwells in a range which extends from the southern part of British Columbia in Canada all the way to central Mexico. In the United States, it can be found in the western states, mainly in the Sierra Nevada and southern Rocky Mountain areas. Its range includes California, western Canada, the northwestern states, plains states, the Southwest and Texas.
The Open Ponderosa Pinewoodlands, particularly the Ponderosa Pines, are the preferred habitat for this Nuthatch, although it will also inhabit Douglas firs and other conifer trees such as pinyon-juniper woodlands and redwood canyons.
A gregarious and outgoing bird, the Pygmy Nuthatch forages alongside other species in large flocks during non-breeding seasons. It also chooses to roost in a communal setting with groups of other birds—sometimes with as many as 100 birds in a tree cavity. During these roostings, the Pygmy Nuthatch conserves its body energy by lowering its body temperature with the use of hypothermia and a lowered metabolic rate.
Unless poor seed crops force them to lower elevations, these birds usually remain in their ranges permanently.
The Pygmy Nuthatch is a diminutive songbird whose length reaches only about 10 cm (4 inches) and its weight about 10 grams. Its tiny body is very compact; it has a large head, long bill and short tail.
It has a long, grey cap, blue-grey upperparts and white underparts. There is a white patch on the nape of its neck which is difficult to see in the summer when the birds are molting. \
The adult’s back and wing coverts are a blue-gray, and its primary feathers are even darker. As the feathers move toward the head, they lighten to a brown. The back of the head is a lighter color, and there is a dark stripe across the eye. The facial and throat feathers are white, gradually changing to a buff yellow on the breast and belly. There is a gray cast to the feathers on the flank, and the legs and bill are black. The juvenile’s coloring is the same as the adults, just not as bright.
The Pygmy Nuthatch engages in cooperative breeding, with extended family members assisting in the care of the chicks. The female constructs the nest and lines it with feathers, leaves and other foliage. She uses natural or abandoned tree cavities, or she excavates the cavity herself.
She lays five to eight white, speckled eggs. Incubation lasts two weeks, and the chicks fledge three weeks after that.
Just as do other Nuthatches, Pygmy Nuthatches climb, hop and flit from branch to branch in the foliage of trees, seeking insects and seeds. Sometimes they will climb the limbs and trunks, up and down head first, as the other Nuthatches do.
A highly gregarious bird, this Nuthatch feeds in small groups, preferring insects in the summer and seeds, preferably pine seeds, in the winter. They will catch the insects on the wing, feeding high in the pine trees. They can be found at backyard feeders as well, feasting on a variety of nuts and seeds.
The Pygmy forages in large flocks during non-breeding season, engaging in quite loud vocalizations while feeding. During breeding season, they feed in small groups, darting through pine trees and feeding on insects, spiders and their eggs, and larva, as well as pinecone seeds. Nuthatches aid in the control of tree parasites and the diseases they spread by eating the offending insects.
This delightful little Nuthatch possesses an extensive repertoire of songs and calls. These warning sounds and flight calls are usually sung in unison as the birds are travelling. Their calls are easily identifiable. These calls are sharp and rapid, sounding like “kip-kipkip.”
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