For the Birds: Red-breasted Nuthatch

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo by Christine Southwick
By Christine Southwick

What’s small, blue-gray, and has a stripy-head?

Spiraling down a large pine trunk, you see a blue-gray bird with a striped head, long pointed bill, short tail, and a red wash on its breast, defying gravity as it travels in search of food. What is it? If you said Red-breasted Nuthatch, you are correct.

At home in stands of evergreens, the more canopy the better, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is found in our suburban areas wherever there are enough older conifers.

They use their strong legs and toes to rapidly climb down, sideways and even up, probing into crevices and cracks in the bark for insect eggs, moths of the spruce budworm, and any other delicacies that their long bills can pry out.

They nest in soft wood, such as alders, cottonwoods, pines, and dead snags. If you need to eliminate a tree, leave 15-20 feet of trunk and create a snag for wildlife. Since loss of habitat is the leading danger for birds, cavity-dwelling birds need our help to have large enough trees in which to hollow out their nest holes.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo by Christine Southwick
Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed chickadees, Northern Flickers, Downy, Hairy and Pileated woodpeckers, and Red-breasted Sapsuckers are our local cavity nesters.

Both members of the seasonally monogamous nuthatch pair work on creating the nest hole 5 to 100 feet up in the tree. A unique trait is that they keep the entrance hole coated with pitch. No one really knows why, but it is probably to repel invaders. Parents keep from getting pitch on their feathers by flying directly into the nest. They raise a single brood of three to six young that fledge in late May or June. Both parents feed this noisy bunch of busy, inquisitive youngsters.

If you offer black-oil sunflowers seeds and suet nearby, get ready to laugh as they seem to make suet sandwiches. They start by eating a sunflower or two, then go to the suet, take a bite, then go back and get another sunflower. Quite often they will make two or three trips to a nearby trunk to cache food for times of need.

So when you hear a tin-horn-sounding “Ank, ank, ank”, look for a small, stripy–headed, blue-gray bird travelling head first down an evergreen trunk, or loudly holding its place at your feeder.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager.  She holds a certificate from a forty hour Northwest Wildlife Federation class and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward.


Post a Comment

We encourage the thoughtful sharing of information and ideas. We expect comments to be civil and respectful, with no personal attacks or offensive language. We reserve the right to delete any comment.
Facebook: Shoreline Area News
Twitter: @ShorelineArea
Daily Email edition (don't forget to respond to the email)

  © Blogger template The Professional Template II by 2009

Back to TOP