Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Return of the Red-breasted Nuthatches...

The joys of birding can felt and experienced in so many ways and on so many levels. It might be a lone Whimbrel flying past on a beach…a life bird that’s taken several years to see. Or perhaps it’s a gorgeous Black-throated Blue Warbler at eye-level in the evening sunlight, revealing tantalizing secrets about its foraging behavior. Maybe it’s the thought of birds migrating at night – meditating what it might be like up there from their perspective. Perhaps it comes from reading adventures of other birders, like Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway…imagining yourself on such a journey across the country.

You know I could keep going on and on. Isn’t that what this blog is all about? But this evening when I heard the faint twittering calls of Red-breasted Nuthatches in our maple tree, my eyes widened and a big smile formed across my face. I thought I heard one last week, but it seemed like it kept on moving…and then nothing for the next few days. However, there was no mistaking these new arrivals. They came down to the peanut feeder, like they owned it, each one taking a turn working out a tasty treat to hide up in the spruces, as they’ll do all winter long.

They do act like they own the entire backyard. One time while I was raking the yard, a nuthatch scolded me from atop the feeder pole, “yenk yenk yenk!” I walked over to it, practically nose to beak, and it just looked at me and blinked a few times – quickly grabbed a peanut chip and took off. In fact, the following picture was taken without my spotting scope – just holding my digital camera right up to the bird:

For three winters we’ve been graced with three Red-breasted Nuhatches that arrive between late August and early September and stay until late April or early May. This is year number four...and I wonder...are these the same three nuthatches? Just how long do they live? Would their progeny find the same way? Is this all just a nutty coincidence?

Bah, I don’t care. I’m just very thankful to have these little birds coming to our feeders for another winter. As cold as it will get in the next few months, when the ground is frozen and covered with ice and snow – the nuthatches will remain. “Yenk yenk yenk!” and then the twitter calls – they are the coolest birds to have in our backyard.

Update - I just had to add this from Cornell's BNA on-line:

"In response to red squirrels climbing nest trees, incubating females may jump out of cavity, perch at cavity entrance, and begin Antipredator Display similar to that of White-breasted Nuthatch (Kilham 1968): Female faces downward toward predator and spreads wings, holds body in fixed position, and then sways slowly in rhythmic movement from side to side; generally very effective in deterring squirrels. In response to the display, red squirrels become motionless, fixate on female for up to 10 s, and then retreat (CKG). In 1 case after attack by red squirrel on nest, both parents began collecting and smearing conifer resin at cavity entrance for up to 1 h (CKG; see also Breeding: nest, below)."

Red-breasted Nuthatch images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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