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Neighborhood Nuthatch

Posted by on in Attracting and feeding wild birds
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Lively as windup toys, nuthatches pirouette on branches and descend headfirst down tree trunks, combing the bark for insects. Divided into four species, these short-tailed song birds are found almost anywhere in North America where there are trees. Easily drawn to see and suet at feeders, especially in colder weather, nuthatches’ nasal bleats are a familiar part of our backyard soundtrack. But common does not mean mundane! Nuthatches possess some fascinating eccentricities.

Readily identified by its white underside, gray back and shiny black cap, the White-breasted Nuthatch ranges across most of the United States and southern Canada. The largest of its tribe, the White-breasted Nuthatch can seem downright gluttonous, as it flies onto a feeder, grabs a seed, and then returns again and again for more. In fact, the White-breasted is a miser that stashes seeds in bark crevices. With a little patient observation, it is easy to locate the bird’s storehouses.

b2ap3_thumbnail_white-breasted-nuthatch.jpgWhite-breasted Nuthatch

Sporting a distinct orange belly and white eye-stripe, the smaller Red-breasted Nuthatch replaces the white-breasted in northern forests and western mountains. The Red-breasted nests in tree cavities (as do all nuthatches) or man-made nest boxes. Like its White-breasted cousin, the Red-breasted improves its homestead by narrowing the entrance hole with mud and smearing the area with sticky stuff, such as sap, which probably serves as a predator guard. The bird itself avoids this mess by shooting straight as an arrow into the nest hole.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_red-breasted-nuthatch.jpg
Red-breasted Nuthatch


Native to the Far West, the plain-gray Pygmy Nuthatch is easy to overlook. But its peculiar domestic arrangements make it an unusual bird. When raising and feeding their young, Pygmy Nuthatch parents rely on “helpers”, who may be their own young from an earlier brood or even “surplus” males. This unusual avian behavior is comparable to human bachelors volunteering to change diapers.


b2ap3_thumbnail_Pgymy-Nuthatch.jpg
Pygmy Nuthatch

The tiny Brown-headed Nuthatch of the southeastern United States also employs nesting “helpers”. But it one-ups the Pygmy Nuthatch in an astonishing way – the Brown-headed Nuthatch is one of the very few North American birds with a talent for tools. Gripping a chunk of bark in its bill, the bird pries up pine bark in pursuit of a meal.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Brown-headed-Nuthatch.jpg
Brown-headed Nuthatch


The nuthatch is an intriguing neighbor with, perhaps, more to reveal so feel free to spy on the delightful birds – they won’t mind at all.

I am delighted to join the Birdzilla team through this blog, sharing ideas and topics related to feeding and attracting wild birds in your backyard. Bird feeding is my life-long passion,  instilled by bird-feeding parents who raised me on an 80-acre farm in central Michigan.  After college, my wife and I served as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer high-school teachers in Africa and then as staff members over an eight-year period.
 
Those wonderful times led to 30-years of bird-feeding leadership as founder of the Wild Bird Centers, franchising and supporting wild bird specialty stores across the country. I helped found the Bird Education Network and was a key financial supporter of PROJECT WILDBIRD, I currently serve as Executive Director of the National Bird-Feeding Society. Several years ago, I was asked to join “The Birder’s Team”, a working group of birding leaders selected by the National Wildlife Refuge System to recommend ways to better serve birders. millions of whom visit our extraordinary network of more than 500 Refuges. These “conservation jewels” actively protect critical habitat and conserve bird populations of all kinds. Most recently, I served as a judge to select the winning artist for the NWRS’ 2015 Duck Stamp Contest.

I now look forward to helping our readers experience the best our wonderful hobby offers. As I often say “The closer we live to each other, the closer we want to be to Nature.”

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