The red-breasted nuthatch appears to be a relatively rare bird here, based on a sparse nine certain sightings in 22 years. The apparent scarcity relative to the white-breasted nuthatch may in part be due to feeding habits: the red-breasted may spend less time on tree trunks where, like other nuthatches, creepers and woodpeckers, a bird may more readily be detected. It prefers the thicker growth of spruce crowns and branch ends where it is harder to see. Its fainter call may also be heard less often than the more strident white-breasted species. A preference for conifers as opposed to hardwoods (Cadman et al., 1987, pp.298-299) is a further reason why the red-breasted form may be more abundant north of our area. It does appear to be expanding southwards and probably breeds here (Cadman et al., 2007, pp.406-407), so perhaps this small but attractive bird will be seen more frequently in the future.
The red-breasted nuthatch breeds at Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south. It is an uncommon year-round resident but is most often seen in migration, during southward irruptions in the autumn. Highest spring counts are in April. "A small number breed annually but are difficult to find" (LaForest, 1993, p.260). The fall migration peaks in October.
In Peterborough county, to the northwest, this bird
is resident all year, though some of the population migrate.
The bird may be very common in some winters, as on the 1978 Christmas
Bird Count. It nests widely in the northern
part of the area, and also in the south.
Concerning the more abundant white-breasted nuthatch,
"This species seems to prefer tree trunks for hunting,
while (the red-breasted nuthatch) is commonly
found on the branches, especially those of conifers"
(Sadler, 1983, p.117).
Cadman,MD, Eagles,PFJ and Helleiner,FM (1987) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Long Point Bird Observatory, published by University of Waterloo Press, 617pp.
Cadman,MD, Sutherland,DA, Beck,GG, Lepage,D and Couturier,AR (editors) (2007) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, 706pp.
LaForest,SM (1993) Birds of Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Friends of Presqu'ile Park, Brighton, Ontario / Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 436pp.
Sadler,D (1983) Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawarthas. Peterborough Field Naturalists / Orchid Press, Peterborough, ON, 192pp.