This tiny nuthatch has a brown cap and gray back with a white spot on the back of its neck and a bill that looks too large for the bird’s size. The brown-headed nuthatch is only 4 ½ inches long. It has a short tail and like other nuthatches, it often travels down a tree trunk, earning its nickname of “upside-down bird.”
The brown-headed nuthatch squeaks like a mouse or a bathtub ducky and is often heard before it is seen. They normally utter a series of high, two-syllable squeaks: pyee-deet! pyee-deet! Also, it gives a single high queet! and a burbling series of squeaks.
A year-round resident of southeastern pine forests and one of the few birds found exclusively in the United States, the brown-headed nuthatch is often found in small family groups or in pairs during the breeding season. In winter they may join mixed feeding flocks. Also, it responds to “pishing” or the imitated calls of a screech-owl. It will bravely fly within inches of your face, which is in contrast to other birds that often cut and run. You can also lure it to your backyard feeding station with seeds, nuts, or suet.
The brown-headed nuthatch does not have persnickety nesting requirements other than a cavity that both sexes excavate. Sometimes, this nuthatch will use helpers at the nest such as an unattached male who will feed the female at the nest and feed her young after they’ve hatched.
This species uses a tool to get its food! The brown-headed nuthatch will hold a small piece of bark in its bill and pry up other pieces of bark to get to insects or insect eggs hidden underneath. It will also keep a storehouse of its food, which is very clever.