Sunday, October 5, 2014

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Attractive, energetic and aggressive, red-breasted nuthatches are permanent residents across southern Canada, the Pacific Northwest, New England and southward through the mountain ranges of North America; throughout the remainder of the Continental U.S., they are winter residents and visitors though they often arrive by September.  Like the call of their larger cousin, the white-breasted nuthatch, their shorter, high-pitched "yank-yank" is always a welcome sound for those who relish crisp, autumn weather.  Favoring coniferous woodlands, red-breasted nuthatches have become year-round residents on our Littleton, Colorado farm, attracted by the pinon pines, Austrian pines, junipers and spruce trees on the property.

In spring, males pick a few potential nest sites, beginning to drill cavities in the soft wood of conifers or aspen trees; females take note of the activity and choose a mate based on his efforts.  She then completes the excavation and the male resorts to bringing food and protecting the site from other suitors; both end up placing nodules of pine resin along the rim of the cavity to deter predators.

During the warmer months, these small birds scour tree trunks and larger limbs for insects and continue to hunt for hibernating invertebrates in winter; however, they are more likely to feast on conifer seeds during the colder months and are easily drawn to feeders with sunflower seed and suet.  Darting back and forth, they typically grab a morsel of food, store it in tree bark and return to the feeder several times each minute; they otherwise roam the winter woods, often in the company of chickadees, titmice, kinglets, downy woodpeckers and other nuthatches.