Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Common Feeder Birds: Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Another nuthatch that has been showing up in record numbers at Indiana feeders is the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis. According to Ken Brock, who posts regularly on the Indiana Birds Listserv, this year is an irruption year and 450 have been logged as of Oct 30th! The previous record number was 287 in 2005. During an irruption year, the birds cannot find enough food in their normal winter grounds and are forced to fly farther south in search of food. With nuthatches, this is usually due to a failure of cone crops, their preferred food. They are fond of seeds from pines, spruce and other conifers.

With all that said, you might have a good chance of one of these creatures showing up at your feeder. They are adorable! They are approximately 4 and 1/2 to 4 and 3/4 inches in length, a bit smaller than the White-breasted Nuthatch. They only weigh .35 ounces, less than two quarters! They have a bluish-gray back with pale orange underparts and a short tail. Their face has a white chin, black eyeline and a white supercillium, the white stripe above the eye, and a dark cap. The males have a black cap, while the females have a more gray cap and lighter orange color on the underparts. It has similar toes and foraging behavior as the White-breasted Nuthatch.

In my encounters with these birds, I usually hear them before I see them. They have a high-pitched "ank, ank ank" call that reminds me of a toy horn. Since they are fond of conifer or evergreen seeds, they are usually found on the trunks of pine, cedar and spruce, but I have seen them in deciduous trees, also. We had one visit our feeders all winter in 2005, entertaining us while we ate lunch. It's food of choice was peanuts, but they also enjoy suet and black-oil sunflower at the feeders. We have heard quite a few at Eagle Creek and Southeastway Park this year, but have not seen any at our feeders, yet. Keep your eye out for this one, if they show up you won't be disappointed!StumbleUpon

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