Nuthatches


We’ve had lots of charming visitors to our birdfeeders over the winter, including both red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches.

This is a male red-breasted nuthatch. As with just about every bird species, the males are more distinct in their plumage. Actually in nuthatches, the difference is not so dramatic — his head is capped with black feathers, while females are capped with grey, and their bellies are less red. Learn more about red-breasted nuthatches here: https://amylaw.blog/2016/02/23/nuthatches-pairing-up/.

As with all nuthatches, he is very comfortable tapping his way down a tree headfirst, looking for insects that live beneath the bark. Often I will hear their “tap tap tap” before I see them.

Birds of North America https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/rebnut/appearance says that red-breasted nuthatches have an “unmistakable nasal bleating similar to small tin horn”. Actually, I did mistake it — for almost anything other than a little bird. It sounds more goat-like than bird-like.

I’ve been hearing a lot of their bleating calls recently, seeming more than normal. As always, I wonder if I’m really hearing more birds, or just noticing them more.

Red-breasted nuthatches prefer spruce-fir forests across North America. This confused me for a little bit, because I don’t normally think of the Front Range as “spruce-fir forest”. But we are up at about 6000 feet, and just about every yard in our neighborhood has a blue spruce in it, so I guess it fits the bill.

Interestingly, this tree that I photographed him in is a green ash. I’m not complaining, because I would never have seen him in a blue spruce. And there are three mature blue spruce growing within a hundred feet of it to keep him happy.

The next day, I heard “tap tap tap” and came out to see a white-breasted nuthatch moving down the trunk of the same green ash tree. This makes more sense — white-breasted nuthatches prefer broadleafed forests across North America.

White-breasted nuthatches don’t have distinct breeding/non-breeding territories. Instead pairs live in the same territory all year round.

Their honking calls “are longer and less nasal” than those of the red-breasted. Okaaaay. I’ll have to listen closer, because all honks have sounded alike to this point.

Again, this is a male, because of his dark head; again females have grey heads.

Both white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches eat a variety of seeds and insects that they find under the bark. The difference in their niches seems to be the type of forests that they prefer. Which makes our mix of blue spruce and ornamental broad-leafed trees a happy combination to be home to both species!

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