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Number of species: 79

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White-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta carolinensis

White-breasted Nuthatch has a partial preformative molt, but no prealternate molts. Plumage differences by age are subtle, and by spring the extent of wear on both first cycle and older birds can be similar enough that only a minority of individuals can be reliably aged and others should be considered M-FCF (AHY). However, sex can be readily distinguished by plumage throughout the year.

Note that there is variability in plumage among subspecies of White-breasted Nuthatches. The ageing and sexing guidelines provided are largely based on S.c. carolinensis, but are expected to largely apply to others as well.

Quick tips

  • Examine the crown and nape - it is uniformly black on males, but on females the dark gray crown contrasts with the blackish nape.
  • Check the edging of feathers on the wing - on DCB (AHY/ASY) birds most feathers have distinct blue-gray edging, matching the colour of the back, but note that FCF (HY/SY) males can also have some narrow blue-gray edging; FCF (HY/SY) females can be more readily distinguished by narrow brownish edging, contrasting with the back.
  • Consider the shape of the primary coverts - they are relatively broad and rounded with distinct gray edging on DCB (AHY/ASY) individuals, but more narrow and pointed with little if any gray edging on FCF (HY/SY) individuals.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2018). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: May - August)
Pale gape, faint wing bars, crown gray (F) or blackish (M)
No images available yet
FCF - (HY/SY: July - following August)
Wings tinged with brown, contrasting with blue-gray back; primary coverts with little or no edging; crown dark gray (F) or black (M)
M
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F
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DCB - (AHY/ASY: June - following August)
Wings and back uniformly blue-gray; primary coverts with distinct gray edging; crown dark gray (F) or black (M)
M
Thumbnail - MG2-2571-23402-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3702.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2571-23402-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3700.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2571-23402-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3701.jpg

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F
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Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: May - August)
Pale gape, faint wing bars, crown gray (F) or blackish (M); some natal down feathers remaining
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: July - September)
Lesser coverts and some body feathers being replaced
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: June - September)
Flight feathers being replaced, with at least some retained juvenile primaries or primary coverts that are distinctly pale and worn
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: June - September)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained feathers either distinctly adult (relatively dark and only moderately worn) or intermediate
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U July - September Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY January - December In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable

Number of species: 79

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