White Breasted Nuthatch Photos and the Winner Is?

The agile little Nuthatch is a common feeder bird with a really loud call. They seem to prefer the biggest seeds at the feeder too, taking the corn with swift dart-like accuracy. In for the score, then very quickly back to the tree. They are non-migratory and the adults usually remain in a territory year-round.

They have a skill that other birds seem to have picked up at my feeder too. They will take a large nut to the tree, jamb and wedge it into the bark of the tree, then stab that pointy, sharp beak into the nut repeatedly to retrieve the seed. I saw a bluejay doing something similar at my feeder in The Bluejay and the Peanut post.

The Nuthatch got its name from this peculiar behavior of hatching the seed out from inside the nut. In summer, they will eat spiders and insects. Below, the Nuthatch is using the mortar joints to look for insects and store seed in June. Imagine how intelligent a bird must be to store food for future use, then remember the location. Sounds like another animal, one that forgets often where they buried the nuts?

At my house they like the suet, but will survey the seed put out for the squirrels.

The images from Summer were taken from my backyard, but the White Breasted Nuthatch prefer old-growth, open deciduous forest, or mixed wooded areas for feeding and general habitat like found at the Falls.

The images taken today were at Niagara Falls State Park. I found these birds very difficult to photograph because they do not sit still and move with jerky motions. The motion when grasping a tree is sideways, down, up and diagonal. It is hard to anticipate where they will hop. They have very strong legs to be able to maneuver in this manner.

They seem more wary than many other birds and will not fly in close if they sense people around. I photographed them with a hand-held camera equipped with a 400 mm lens, so the images may not be as clear and well focused. I will get more and better images when in a snow-covered winter, their hunger will overtake their wariness.

They have an unusual behavior of creeping headfirst down tree trunks. They may circle the tree also as they descend. They search for insects between the crevices of the tree bark, and may also store the food for the future in this way.

“According to records at the Bird Banding Lab, 71,582 White-breasted Nuthatches have been banded since 1955. Of these, 3,114 have been recovered, representing a recovery rate of 4.35%. If you should recover a banded nuthatch, please report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.” This is quoted from the Chipper Woods Bird Observatory. There were about six different White Breasted Nuthatches visiting the tree where I was photographing.

All these birds shown with squirrels are part of a mixed flock. Each is depending on each other to make sure I mean no harm.

In winter, Nuthatches will travel in small flocks with titmice and chickadees, along with the Downy woodpecker.

They are reported to do this as I mentioned above when food sources are provided by people or when foraging is sparse. They are more dependent on each other as a group to be better protected from predators and read each others’ behavior as certain group members remain vigilant in the mixed flock. I noticed this behavior in my own backyard with the mixed groups. One bird signals and all the others respond. They also depend heavily on the behavior of the squirrels.

As I mentioned, these little birds do make a racket and you always know when one is around.

They kinda sound like when the squirrels go at it and vocalize up a storm.

Here is the call and song from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. I would say enjoy, but really it is a kind of annoying sound. Click the Safari link below and see for yourself! If it does not play in a new window, click the Cornell link above. They have many Nuthatch bird calls to listen to. For some reason, my link of m4a format works sporadically. WP does not allow mp3 format, boo, hiss, so I had to re-compress, a really bad thing for quality too. Gripe, gripe,gripe. But H264 (MPEG -4 AVC encoding) is the best ‘new’ web based thing in video/audio compression.  Any hoo… the bird calls sound pretty good considering if you can play them.

Safari 20111219 1255

And the winners are over at the National Geographic Photo Contest 2011. And guess what won the Grand Prize!!!!!  Well I am not going to show you. You have to see for yourself, but here is a hint. Like TV, I blurred it out to make you want more. Go and see, it is something we photograph all the time in our gardens just like I said in my post. I will take off my ‘see all, know all’ swami hat now! Just kidding, but I told you all that you could enter and have a shot. The photo is pretty remarkable and I really admire his great capture. Congrats x 10,000 to Shikhei Goh.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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24 Responses to White Breasted Nuthatch Photos and the Winner Is?

  1. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna,
    That dragonfly shot is amazing! No wonder it won.
    We have Nuthatches in our garden. They are so shy and as you indicate, they love to circle up and down the tree trunk near the feeder.
    Have a wonderful Christmas holiday Donna. All the best for 2012!

  2. Martha says:

    Love this post!

  3. One says:

    I was wondering what it was that we capture in the garden regularly and couldn’t guess. You are right! It is something common indeed and yet so unique because of the risk taken. Glad you shared the link. Now I just have to wait for the rain. Just kidding.

  4. andrea says:

    I don’t know this bird, we dont have it here, but they are very intelligent. I wonder if they are thinking or it is embedded in their instinct. Thanks for the link on NG contest, that winner is really amazing. I don’t even know how to take the same, slow shutter or what! Can you enlighten me how? The honorable mentions are just like your photos, maybe they are just more unique. Happy Holidays and more blessings for the New Year Donna. Thanks for all the amazement and inspirations you’ve given me!

    • Andrea, they don’t say how he took the shot outside of he got his camera wet, but I bet this type of shot could be staged too if the dragonfly remained positioned. A spray bottle could do the trick. I have had them in my yard with the wind blowing them and they just hang on motionless. I have gotten in very close too. One last year, I absolutely know I could have spayed since it did not move for anything I did. I even moved leaves touching it for a better photos. Same with bees. I actually moved a bee from one plant to another in my post on the bees mating. Weird, but sometimes they oblige.

  5. elaine says:

    My beloved is a keen bird-watcher so I called him in to see if he could identify the birds in your shots (of course, your birds are completely different to ours in the UK) but he almost got them right, thanks to your beautiful shots.

  6. beautiful set of photos again Donna, lots of feathered friend info too, I like seeing the little birds hopping around they have so much character, Frances

  7. some serious ornithology and photographs here Donna. Lovely liittle bird you’ve captured in all its charming aspects. Happy Christmas to you and look forward to another year of your amazingly talented posts

  8. Donna I love the nuthatches when they come around…of course I can hear them many times laughing at me with their call…I have them foraging around our old trees…love to watch them! I see the same small groups hanging out all winter. The winners’ pictures are amazing…rare captures of once in a lifetime events…thx for sharing the link. Wishing you a very special Christmas and New Year!!!

  9. Nuthatches are so fun to watch. We have them in our garden all year but I agree they are very difficult to photograph. Your shots are very good. It is interesting that the birds all work together. The mourning dove are usually the leaders in my garden when it comes to warning signs for the birds. Maybe my squirrels are too lazy!

  10. John says:

    I think we have very similar over-wintering birds. Once the migratory types leave in the fall, the landscape here in North Dakota is dominated by chickadees, nuthatches, and the downy woodpecker. I’m very impressed with your photos since I know how hard it is to capture these particular birds with a camera.

  11. TufaGirl says:

    I love the Nuthatch! I have not seen one here in Texas but any bird that will eat spiders has my utmost respect. Beautiful photos – I know you are a patient person to wait to get these perfect shots.

  12. Cat says:

    Bird habits are so interesting to observe. We have many of the same little visitors. I’ve noticed recently how the downy woodpecker backs down the tree to the feeder…rarely flies directly to it. Beautiful captures. The NGeo winner is much deserved…a quality shot!

  13. What an enchanting post. My favorite is then top image and the ones on the brick walls. Wonderful work and really do mean that so emphatically.

  14. HolleyGarden says:

    I thought of my dog when you talked about hiding food. I know it’s something he really loves if he digs a hole and hides it for “later”. But, I’ve never seen him dig it up, and it would probably have decomposed anyway. I suppose birds are smarter than ‘man’s best friend’!

  15. Marguerite says:

    Great photos of the nuthatch. These are one of the few birds I always recognize due to their habit of walking head first down trees.

  16. Wonderful nuthatch photos! We have a pair that raised young in our old tree this summer. It was funny to see how much more vocal the immature bird was than its parents.

    I always enjoy your photography. Merry Christmas to you!

  17. Wonderful photos – especially if they are difficult to photograph, but I’m actually totally awed by the black squirrel! I’ve never seen a black one. Was this from your garden? Are black squirrels common?

    • I have black squirrels in my garden constantly. The one pictured is at the Falls. They are very common in our area and I believe they all came from Canada. It was only in the last ten years we had them here, now, they are all over the place.

  18. I have always loved watching nuthatches do their thing. They have real personality. Great photos.

  19. Mac_fromAustralia says:

    I know what you mean about the difficulty of photographing quick unpredictable little birds. Your photos are wonderful though!

  20. Barbie says:

    I love the beautiful birds in your garden. So different to what I see in my garden, so I loved the photos – yea, a black squirrel?? I have seen a red squirrel before in Europe, but a black squirrel!! Wow! Funny, we don’t have any squirrels in our area!

  21. Sugel says:

    Like other nuthatches, the White-breasted Nuthatch forages for insects on trunks and branches, and is able to move head-first down trees. Seeds form a substantial part of its winter diet, as do acorns and hickory nuts that were stored by the bird in the fall. The nest is in a hole in a tree, and the breeding pair may smear insects around the entrance as a deterrent to squirrels. Adults and young may be killed by hawks, owls and snakes, and forest clearance may lead to local habitat loss, but this is a common species with no major conservation concerns over most of its range.

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