The Bird of Autumn

Birders tend to associate certain species with specific times of the year. Of course, this is especially true for those birds that inhabit our area for limited periods of time and the identity of these seasonal species varies widely from one region to another.

Here in the Midwest, most birders likely associate warblers with mid spring, when these colorful and active species move through our region, challenging identification by even the most experienced naturalists. In summer, many of us are especially aware of avian residents that seem undaunted by the heat and humidity; chimney swifts and house wrens come to mind. Winter brings seasonal residents from the north; just the sight or sound of juncos and white-throated sparrows can produce a chilling effect and we come to admire the hardiness of these Canadian visitors.

For me, the white-breasted nuthatch is the bird of autumn. Though this common acrobat inhabits our area throughout the year, I have long associated his distinctive call with cool, sunny days and bright autumn foliage. Perhaps this hearkens back to my earliest days as a birder, when I first identified this amusing bird on a glorious October afternoon. Whatever the cause, the yank of a nuthatch is, for me, a sound of the season, as much a part of autumn as falling leaves, frosty nights and the nostalgic scent of wood smoke.