A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


The smallest and perhaps the least noted of the three nuthatch species common in Sonoma County, the others being Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) and White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). According to Brinkley, the smallest nuthatch in the world. Found mostly in coniferous trees in the mountains and foothills of our coast range. Breeds in coastal areas of northern Sonoma County. Often forms small, loose flocks (5-20 birds). Often in association with other small woodland birds such as Oak Timouse (Baeolophus inornatus), Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens), Hutton’s Vireo (Vireo huttoni), Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), kinglets, and the like. Feeds on conifer seeds, insects, and spiders, often foraging high in trees.

Small, active bird that looks like a miniature version of the White-breasted Nuthatch--although with notable differences in coloring. Greyish cap with a dark eyeline just below the cap, showing no color between. Face white beneath the eyeline. Throat white. Pale belly washed with buff. White underbelly and vent. Slatey blue-grey back and dark cap give the bird an overall dark look from above but paler at the nape. Sharp, pointed bill.

The three nuthatches can be distinguished by size--White-breasted being much the largest of the three, Pygmy Nuthatch the smallest of the three; by color--White-breasted is the whitest-looking, Red-breasted the reddest, Pygmy is two-toned (dark above, pale below); and by facial pattern--White-breasted is white-cheeked and with white above the eye, Red-breasted face looks striped (dark eyeline set off by white above and below), Pygmy face is all dark above the eyeline, all white below (see photos below). Vocalizations are distinctive (links below).       

English synonyms: Black-eared Nuthatch, Californian Nuthatch, Nevada Nuthatch, White-naped Nuthatch (none of these regularly used in Sonoma County)

Pygmy Nuthatch in other languages--German: Zwergkleiber,  Spanish: Saltapalo enano, Saltapalos Enano, Sita Enana, Sita Pigmea, Trepador Enano, French: Petite Sittelle, Sittelle pygmée, Italian: Picchio muratore pigmeo

Dutch: Dwergboomklever, Kleine Boomklever, Russian: Поползень-крошка, Japanese: ヒメゴジュウガラ (himegojuugara), ヒメゴジュウカラ (himegojuukara), Chinese: 小䴓

(Language information from Avibase, Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al, Princeton Field Guide Series), and Birds of Asia (Mark Brazil, Princeton Field Guide Series).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 92

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 342

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 121

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 340

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 380

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 474

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 436

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 284

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 338

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 286

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 210-211

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 55

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 301

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 278

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 262

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 325

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 532

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 311

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Pygmy Nuthatch

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--White-breasted Nuthatch

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Red-breasted Nuthatch



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Pygmy Nuthatch

Sitta pygmaea

Pygmy Nuthatch, Barnett Valley Rd., Sebastopol, December 27, 2015

1995-2015 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated January 6, 2016

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

For comparison: White-breasted Nuthatch, Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, December 16, 2012

Note the eye completely surrounded by white

For comparison: Red-breasted Nuthatch (male)

Point Reyes (Marin County), September 12, 2012

Pygmy Nuthatch, Barnett Valley Road

Sebastopol, December 27, 2015

Note the two-toned face