Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH.
SITTA PUSILLA, Lath.
PLATE CCXLIX.--MALE AND FEMALE.
Actively and most diligently employed is this little rover ever found in
our pine woodlands of the Southern Districts, where it resides all the year, and
beyond which it seldom extends, few being ever seen to the eastward of Maryland.
Those large tracts of sandy soil that occupy the greater portion of the
Floridas, Georgia, and the Carolinas, appear to suit its habits best. It is
rather rare in Louisiana, and none go so far as Kentucky. It is the smallest
species of Nuthatch as yet found in the United States. Its notes are several
octaves above those of the White-bellied Nuthatch, more shrill, and at least one
and a half above those of its northern cousin, the Red-bellied.
Although fond of pine-trees and pine-barrens, it does not confine itself to
these, but may not unfrequently be seen pursuing its avocations on lower trees
and on fences, mounting, descending, turning in every imaginable position, and
with a quickness of motion so much greater than that of most other birds as to
render it extremely difficult to shoot at. It examines every bole and cranny of
the bark of trees, as well as their leaves and twigs, on which it finds
abundance of food at all seasons. During the breeding period they move in
pairs, and are constantly chattering. Their notes resemble the syllables deut,
deut, dend, dend, and although not musical are not disagreeable, particularly
when heard in the woods in which they usually reside, and where at that season a
mournful silence intimates the wildness of the place.
When the young have left the nest they continue together, and move from
tree to tree with the activity of their parents, who join them when the
succeeding broods are able to find food for themselves. Towards winter they
associate with the smaller species of Woodpeckers, the Brown Creeper, and the
Southern Black-headed Tit. These birds pursue their avocations with so much
cheerfulness that the woods echo to their notes. I have seen a congregation of
these Nuthatches, amounting to fifty or more, thus perambulating the Floridas in
the months of November and December. In those districts they pair in the
beginning of February, and have eggs about the middle of that month, while in
South Carolina they breed about a month later.
The nest is usually excavated by the birds themselves, in the dead portion
of a low stump or sapling, sometimes only a few feet from the ground, but not
unfrequently so high as thirty or forty feet. The little creatures work in
concert, with great earnestness, for several days, until the hole, which is
round, and not larger at its entrance than the body of the bird, is dug ten or
twelve inches deep, and widening at the bottom. The eggs are laid on the bare
wood; they are from four to six, white, with reddish dots, and scarcely larger
than those of the Humming-bird. They frequently raise three broods in the
season, but more commonly two.
Extremely careless in the presence of man, who indeed seldom molests them,
they often peep at him when at the distance of only a few feet; yet when
apprehensive of danger, they instantly fly off or ascend the tree, and are out
of sight in a moment.
Their flight is similar to that of the other species, and like them they
frequently utter their notes while on the wing. Now and then they are seen on
the ground, where they hop and turn over the dead leaves in search of their
food, which consists entirely of insects and their larvae.
The young of this species do not acquire the brown colour of the head until
the approach of spring, when no difference is observable between the sexes.
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH, Sitta pusilla, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. ii. p. 105.
SITTA PUSILLA, Bonap. Syn., p. 97.
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 584.
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH, Sitta pusilla, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 151.
Male, 4, 8.
From Texas to Maryland. In the interior to Mississippi. Extremely
abundant. Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and the Carolinas. Resident.
Bill of moderate length, strong, subconical, compressed, the tip abrupt and
wedge-shaped; upper mandible slightly convex in the dorsal outline, the sides
sloping, the edges acute; dorsal outline of lower mandible straight. Nostrils
basal, lateral, oblong. General form short and robust. Feet rather short and
strong; tarsus compressed, anteriorly scutellate, behind sharp; toes free,
scutellate above, the hind toe strong; claws arched, compressed, acute, that of
the hind toe large.
Plumage soft and blended; wings of ordinary length, the second, third, and
fourth quills longest. Tail short, even, of twelve rounded feathers.
Bill brownish-black above, and on the tips of the lower mandible, the base
of which is light greyish-blue. Iris hazel. Feet dusky brown. The general
colour of the plumage above is dull leaden-grey; the two middle tail-feathers of
the same tint; the rest black, the margin of the outermost and the ends of it,
and of the three next on each side, white, the tips grey. Upper part of the
head and hind-neck light reddish-brown, with a white spot on the hind-neck. The
under parts in general are dull white.
Length 4 inches, extent of wings 8; bill along the back 5/12, along the
edge 7/12; tarsus 8/12.
The female has the tints paler, but in other respects resembles the male.