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Tiny but Mighty: The Red-Breasted Nuthatch
January 19, 2017 by Laura De Vuono
Photo by Wolfgang Wander

While wandering through the snow-covered wonderland that is High Park during Toronto’s long winter months, you might catch a flash of rusty red darting through the trees, perched on a branch, or zipping up and down a tree trunk. If you look closely, you may see the Red-Breasted Nuthatch, a diminutive songbird with a big personality.

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are identified by their small size, black and white striped head, and copper-coloured breast plumage. As is the case with many bird species, the males are more brightly coloured than the females, whose breast feathers are a much paler hue than the vibrant rusty orange of the males.

Although their diet consists largely of insects, these tiny birds are named for their unique way of getting nuts and seeds from their shells: by jamming them into a piece of bark and hammering at them with their long, pointed beaks. Another distinguishing trait is the Nuthatch’s ability to zig-zag down tree trunks headfirst with ease, and even cling to the underside of branches while foraging for food, due to their long hind toes and strong legs. This habit gives the Nuthatch the nickname of the “Upside-Down Bird”.

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

Although the Red-Breasted Nuthatch is small in stature, it more than makes up for its size with its energetic nature and peculiar honking call that sounds almost like a tiny tin horn sounding through the trees. This, as well as their playful zipping and flitting up, down, under, and around tree limbs and trunks makes the Red-Breasted Nuthatch a joy to observe.

If you find yourself in High Park, keep an eye and ear out for a flash of this stripy-headed, copper-chested noisemaker flitting through the branches—if you are lucky enough to see one, you are guaranteed to be enchanted by the tiny, feisty Red-Breasted Nuthatch.

Text Sources:

Animal Diversity Web:


Canadian Wildlife Federation:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Photo Sources:

Wikimedia Commons:

Wikimedia Commons: 

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