Saturday, January 3, 2015

Red-breasted Nuthatch..."Happy, jolly little bird"

Arthur Cleveland Bent* nailed the description of this bird: "The red-breasted nuthatch is a happy, jolly bird, surprisingly quick and agile in his motions...winds about the little twigs out to the end...more sociable, too...feeding together they keep up a cheery chatter among themselves...high, tin-whistle note, 'kng'."

I encountered a good number of these "happy" birds yesterday at Maclay Flat (USFS at Missoula, MT), a dandy place for a lot of different wildlife. Got a halfway decent photo (below) of one. They always seem to be around here (permanent resident); this is not true for other parts of the country. Red-breasted Nuthatch is an "irruptive species"; it breeds/is resident in the boreal forest and when food resources aren't available there in winter, it "irrupts" or migrates to places that do have food. Audubon has a nice, colorful video explaining this concept.

To find this bird in your neighborhood, look for a substantial stand of pine or spruce. Look both at the trunk and twigs for movement. As omnivores they are eating seeds of the cones and wintering insects wedged in the bark. Listen for their call or hammering (much softer than a woodpecker) on the bark extracting insects. It can challenging to find them, but you get the secondary benefits of fresh air, exercise...and a good story of adventure :-)

*Mr. Bent compiled the 21 volume set "Life histories of North American Birds" with the first volume published in 1919 continuing through 1968 by the United States National Museum. I have the Dover reprint of this series published in 1964. An electronic version of Bent can be found here. These writings are very poetic, descriptive and will add flavor/skill to your birding experience.

Red-breasted Nuthatch