“Yank-yank-yank,” sounds came from a large dead cottonwood in my neighbor’s backyard, then an answer came from one of the large firs in my front yard. The sounds were coming from the first pair of red-breasted nuthatches that I have seen in my yard this winter. I guess the snow may have driven them to the lowlands as they may have been looking for a better supply of food.

It was not long before one of them started feeding on a suet cake and defending it from all comers including black-capped chickadees and even the large northern flickers. It did not leave until it had filled its small belly. The other one could be seen as it gathered up sunflower seeds and hid them in the cracks of the dead cottonwood. Occasionally, it would take time to wedge a seed into a crack and jackhammer the shell until the seed popped out.

Usually, nuthatches show up singly or in pairs, but this week I have had four show up at my bird feeders. During winters, often they will show up in area cemeteries where mature evergreens are most trees, to feed on the abundant seeds produced by the watered conifers. Extremely dry summers may not allow cones to develop enough seeds to keep birds satisfied and they migrate into the valley.

A Red-breasted nuthatch. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

With cone-laden fir and spruce trees in my front yard and with feeders containing some of their favorite foods in my backyard, they have found a spot to enjoy the bitter winter weather. Their favorite foods are peanuts, peanut-flavored suet cakes, shelled sunflower seeds and dried mealworms. They love to store extra food in cracks or behind pieces of bark for their “72 hour kits.” During the spring and summer, they switch to insects as their main food source.

Nuthatches are known as the “upside down” bird as it can scamper down a tree headfirst and can even walk around a limb or on the bottom of a limb while searching for food. This is possible because it has three toes on the front of its foot and a large back toe called the “hallux” toe. The hallux toe anchors the bird to the bark of the tree while the other foot moves forward.

The nuthatches are feisty little fellas, and in the spring when it is time to pair up, they become very aggressive. As cavity nesters, the males may start building a nest in an aspen or a dead tree to help attract a female, then both will finish it. Any other male that gets close may loose a few feathers, even red squirrels may feel the ire of the male as he protects the home and the female that has chosen him.

Redbreast10 23
A typical pose for a nuthatch when alarmed. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

One of the odd things about nesting nuthatches is that both will gather pine globules, put it on a piece of bark and smear it on the edge of the nest. The male usually puts the sap on the outside while the woman of the house decorates the inside of the home including applying the sap. This is thought to discourage other birds and animals from entering the home. The pair enters the nest sap-free by diving into it without landing on the sap-covered edge.

Some of the bed-breasted nuthatches will migrate south for the fall and winter, but most of them stay in the mountains. Island Park is full of them and they will visit any local bird feeders during the winter. If you end up with some at your feeders, they a fun to watch but difficult to photograph because of their tendency to never stop moving.

Some of the migrating American robins have shown up this week. My wife and I saw a flock of over a hundred of them working crabapple trees in Rexburg. If the predicted warm weather shows up, be careful of drunk fliers as they consume the rotten fruit. Robins, starlings and waxwings enjoy a little partying in the spring.

Redbreast2 23
A nuthatch picking pieces of food out of the snow. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

Source link