Wednesday, August 8, 2012

White-breasted Nuthatch

If you feed the birds, you know the nuthatch.  They are widespread and common and come in at least three varieties. If you don’t know them by name, you’ll know them by sight.  They are the birds that hop, headfirst, down the tree.

The three White-breasted Nuthatches, Eastern, Pacific and Interior West, all variations of the same bird, cover the continent.

He is energetic and entertaining.  Making numerous trips to the bird feeder, snatching one sunflower seed at a time, he flies off to hide his prize in nearby trees. The foraging goes on all day long. He  tirelessly chisels and wedges seeds into bark crevices. When he’s not at our feeder, I’m sure he’s at the neighbor’s feeder doing the same thing.  White-breasted nuthatches are year-around Wisconsin residents; storing winter food is necessary for survival. 

He can’t possibly keep track of the thousands of seeds he’s hiding, so why does he hide so many? Why is he working so hard?

I’m sure he’s feeding the squirrels too, but not intentionally.  I’ve never witnessed a squirrel plundering his stores, but I can’t imagine a squirrel passing up a found sunflower seed.  The squirrels are way too smart to pass up free food!  Squirrels even consider my bird feeder defenses as silly. They don’t even bother trying to get to the seeds inside.  Why should they?  They get their meals delivered!

Traveling headfirst down a tree, the nuthatch only appears to be hopping. He’s actually walking, very quickly, one foot at a time. That’s what I mean by entertaining.  He’s a fun bird to watch. If you don’t recognize this bird by this trait alone, maybe you don’t have White-breasted Nuthatches in your neighborhood. 

For entertainment, he’s a star!   Songbirds are seasonal and raptors are rare, but the White-breasted Nuthatch puts on a show every day.


This is likely a Pacific or Interior West, White-breasted Nuthatch.  I can’t tell them apart.  I only got one picture before he flew away.   I found him in the Santa Rita Mountains of southern Arizona, so chances are he’s an Interior West.