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White-Breasted Nuthatch

January in Ohio has been a roller coaster month in regard to weather, dragging us down through single digits and back up to balmy 60s. Thank goodness for our feathered friends who bring energy and life to these drab days. Birds can keep me entertained for hours on end as they move around the feeders in hyper speed. Some of the common local birds that stick around in the winter and typically flock together are cardinals, woodpeckers, chickadees, tufted titmice, and nuthatches. I want to focus on the bird that is often found hanging out upside down, the white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). It’s identified by the gray-blue coloring on the back, white face, black (male) or gray (female) cap on its head and neck, and a chestnut color on the lower belly. Nuthatch is derived from “nuthack” because they collect nuts, cram them one at a time in the bark of trees in their territory, and then smash each nut open with their strong bill. During the colder months you’ll find them at your feeders looking for suet, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter. You can watch them collect one sunflower seed at a time from your feeder then zoom back to cache them for a later date. During warmer months they’re fierce hunters, feeding mainly on insects, spiders, and nuts. Their young are fed spiders and insects exclusively, often dislodged from lichen and bark. Nuthatches don’t create a new hole but use abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities for nesting. In fact, they are often confused for woodpeckers because of their ability to hop along tree trunks. If you watch carefully, woodpeckers move tail down while nuthatches hop down the tree head first. Thus, they have the ability to move upside down, diagonally, and sideways; kind of like the Energizer Bunny of the bird world. The toes of a woodpecker are located two in the front and two in the back, which is known as zygodactyl. Nuthatches share the configuration of songbirds, anisodactyl, three toes in the front and one toe (the hallux) in the back. Their hallux has an extended claw, contributing to their increased maneuverability and all around spastic mobility. In addition to their unique movement, nuthatches have a rather distinct “nasal yammering” call that you should listen for the next time you encounter one.

 

~Tracy