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Number of species: 80

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White-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta carolinensis

While sexes are easily separated by the colour of the crown, age can be difficult to determine.  Unlike most North American passerines, HY/SY White-breasted Nuthatches have no distinct molt limits on the wings, and tail shape/condition does not vary appreciably by age either.  Overall appearance of the wing can be used to assess age, but with caution, and many individuals cannot be reliably aged.

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. tenuissima, 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 AHY/ASY birds most feathers have distinct blue-gray edging, matching the colour of the back; on HY/SY males there is narrower blue-gray edging, and HY/SY females tend to have narrow brownish edging, contrasting with the back
  • Consider the shape of the primary coverts - relatively broad and rounded on AHY/ASY individuals, but more narrow and pointed on HY/SY individuals.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Hatch year / Male
Black cap and nape; wing somewhat brownish-gray, contrasting with the bluish-gray back. 
Thumbnail - MG2-2581-69106-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3699.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2581-69106-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3697.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2581-69106-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3698.jpg
Date: Oct 25
After hatch year / Male
Black cap and nape; uniformly dark wing with distinct grayish-blue edging to most feathers.
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
Date: Oct 4
After hatch year / Female
Gray cap contrasting with blackish nape; uniformly dark wing with distinct grayish-blue edging to most feathers.
Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39413-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3705.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39413-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3703.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-2241-39413-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3704.jpg
Date: Oct 21
Second year / Female
Gray cap contrasting with blackish nape; wing brownish-gray, contrasting with the bluish-gray back.
Thumbnail - MG2-9901-12001-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3708.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-9901-12001-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3706.jpg Thumbnail - MG2-9901-12001-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3707.jpg
Date: May 19
After second year / Male
Black cap and nape; uniformly dark wing with distinct grayish-blue edging to most feathers.
Thumbnail - MH3-2241-39448-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3711.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2241-39448-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3709.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2241-39448-Sitta_carolinensis_AOU_7_52-3710.jpg
Date: Apr 27

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
Second year / Male Black cap and nape; wing somewhat brownish-gray, contrasting with the bluish-gray back. 
Hatch year / Female Gray cap contrasting with blackish nape; wing brownish-gray, contrasting with the bluish-gray back.
After second year / Female Gray cap contrasting with blackish nape; uniformly dark wing with distinct grayish-blue edging to most feathers.
Juvenile / Unknown Similar to HY but with weak wing bars; sexes may sometimes be distinguishable already by cap.
Number of species: 80

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