Small birds are notoriously difficult to differentiate. It doesn’t help when several species of tiny avian creatures occupy a single geographical area. Yet, if you take two birds and look closely at them, you can find some commonalities along with a host of differences. That’s what we’re going to do today as we explore the nuthatch vs chickadee, two birds that can look similar but have many differences between them.
By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll know about the five key differences that set them apart, even if the differences aren’t exactly massive.
Comparing a Nuthatch and a Chickadee
|Size||Weight: 0.6 to 1 oz |
Length: 3.9-7.7 in
Height: 2-3 inches
|Weight: 0.3 to 0.4 oz |
Length: 2.4-5.9 in
Height: 1.5-2.5 inches
|Morphology||– Long bill, especially longer than a chickadee |
– Noticeable short tail
– May have a dark cap on the head, but often has a white face and throat with gray, brown, and orange colors
– Sometimes has a white face with a black stripe passing over its eye towards the back
– The white-breasted nuthatch has a black cap, but a white face, breast, and underparts
|– Has a black cap on its head and a dark throat patch with a white breast|
– Light-colored streaks on the face
– Light markings on the tail and wings
– Dark or black beak
|Diet||– Primarily eats insects, seeds, and nuts, using its bill to find food below tree bark |
– Will stash food under tree bark to come back and eat later
– Also hide food in the ground under the bark they strip or under small stones
– Will hang at unusual angles while feeding at trees or feeders
|– Mostly granivorous, but also eat insects, fruit, and nuts |
– Creates caches of seeds throughout their range to survive the winter
– Caches are hidden under leaves, behind bark, and even around human structures.
|Location||– North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa |
– Typically, they do not migrate
– The migratory, red-breasted nuthatch has been found outside of these provided ranges
|– North America, Europe, and Asia |
– Typically, they do not migrate
|Genus||– Sitta |
– Over a dozen species within this genus
|– Poecile |
– Several species, but not all of them are referred to as chickadee
– Outside of the U.S., they are called tits, e.g., the Siberian tit.
The 5 Key Differences Between a Nuthatch vs Chickadee
The greatest differences between a nuthatch and a chickadee include their morphology and size. The nuthatch is larger than the chickadee, weighing up to 1 ounce and measuring 7.7 inches long with a short tail, long bill, no patch on the throat and underside that is seen in chickadees. The chickadee has a smaller bill than the nuthatch along with a dark cap on its head and a dark patch on its throat while weighing just 0.4 ounces and measuring up to 5.9 inches long.
These unique qualities set these animals apart, but we need to provide more depth to fully examine the differences between the birds.
Nuthatch vs Chickadee: Size
The nuthatch is larger than the chickadee across its genus. The bird weighs between 0.6 and 1 ounces, measures up to 7.7 inches long, and stands about 3 inches tall. Meanwhile, the chickadee measures about 0.4 ounces in weight, stands 2.5 inches in height, and grows about 5.9 inches long.
These differences are rather significant when you consider that the nuthatch can weigh twice as much as the chickadee and measure a full inch longer.
Nuthatch vs Chickadee: Morphology
The morphology of the nuthatch makes it easy to tell it apart from a chickadee. For example, the nuthatch has a long bill that it uses for obtaining food. It also has a short tail. These two factors are different from the chickadee, which has a short, black, or gray bill with a long tail with light-colored markings.
The nuthatch has a greater variety of colors in its species. Although some species may have a dark cap on the head, they usually have a white face and a throat that integrates orange, gray, or brown. Those colors are not common on the throats of chickadees in the most widespread species. Instead, the chickadee is known for having a dark cap as well as a black patch on its throat and a white breast, and a light face.
The nuthatch usually has a white face, but it can sometimes have a black stripe that passes over the eye horizontally. This patch is thin, and it doesn’t dominate the face or spread to the throat.
These significant differences in body and color help differentiate the birds, but there are other pieces of the puzzle we can examine.
Nuthatch vs Chickadee: Diet
The nuthatch is known for eating insects, seeds, and nuts. The bird often pulls bark from trees to find food and then uses the bark for caching food for later. The thing that sets their eating habits apart is not storing the food but the fact that they hang at odd angles from bird feeders and can walk face-first down on trees when they are seeking food.
Their long bills come into play while feeding, allowing the birds to dig beneath strips of bark to get the food they desire or to retrieve food from caches in trees or on the ground.
The chickadee is another caching bird that can hide thousands of seeds around its range to help it last through winter. This bird has a great memory that allows it to remember where it stores all the food. For the most part, chickadees eat seeds, but they also eat insects, fruits, and nuts.
Nuthatch vs Chickadee: Location
The nuthatch and the chickadee are both found in North America, but the nuthatch has a wider range overall. The chickadee is also found in North America, Europe, and Asia, but it is called the tit outside of North America. For example, the Eurasian Siberian tit is called the grey-headed chickadee in the U.S. Most members of this species do not migrate.
The nuthatch does not migrate, either. The exception is the red-breasted nuthatch, and it has been found in many far-flung places, including Bermuda. Other than that, nuthatches have been found in North America, Europe, Asia, and even a small portion of Africa.
Nuthatch vs Chickadee: Genus
The nuthatch is a member of the Sitta genus, and there are over a dozen members of this species. However, the chickadee is a member of the Poecile genus, and there are about seven different species of this bird. The nuthatches are more widespread and have more species compared to the chickadee.
All in all, the nuthatch is a very different bird from the chickadee. It has a unique body type, color pattern, and dietary habit. With this information, you should be able to tell each bird apart.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/M. Leonard Photography
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.