‘Little Devil Down’ Bird: the Acrobatic Nuthatch
Well, this little guy isn't really a devil. It earned this name from the way it travels head first from the top to the bottom of a tree trunk. Bugs are its main agenda, particularly in the summertime. All manner of insects, including gypsy moths, their caterpillars, pine borers, beetles, spiders, etc., are gleaned by this very efficient tree bark groomer.
In the winter when insects are scarcer, nuthatches absolutely love to eat peanut butter, peanuts, suet and sunflower seeds. I have seen them tuck the seeds under tree bark using the bark as a vise, and then proceed to peck away until they get to the meaty interior. Nuthatches work diligently at all the trees and branches looking for overwintering bugs as well. I watched in awe as a nuthatch used a piece of bark to force another piece of bark away in order to expose a possible meal. Adaptability is definitely one of their strong suits!
Did You Know?
The 6" sparrow-sized White Breasted Nuthatch only migrates vertically; that is north to south and back again. And then only just far enough to follow insect populations.
Fortunately for us, the white breasted nuthatch likes big families, usually averaging about 6 to 8 per clutch and sometimes more. Their eggs are white with reddish-brown irregular lines. As a precautionary measure, female nuthatches use noxious smelling beetles and other insects to ‘dust’ their nests before laying eggs. This action presumably repels egg thieves like squirrels and raccoons. It is also thought that it acts as a natural pest repellent against lice, fleas and parasites that sometimes plague baby birds. Smart little birds aren’t they!
Nuthatches excavate nesting holes in trees, or use natural cavities for their homes. Alternatively, if those accommodations are not available, they will use nest boxes or bird houses. Nests are made with twigs and grass, and lined with feathers.
White-Breasted Nuthatch on Peanut Butter Log
Nuthatches Are Dapper Dressers!
White Breasted Nuthatches are handsome birds, and I think they know it! Any time I want to take a picture of them, these 6" feathered acrobats seem to stop what they are doing and hold their head at a cocky angle so I can obtain a good shot!
With their dark bluish-grey back and wings, black head and white chest, they are built to blend in while on a tree or against a snowy background. Their long pointed beak is just right for the tasks at hand.
Peanut Butter Feeder
Top 5 Pine Trees to Plant, from bhg
Best Way to Entice Nuthatches to Your Yard
Also known as the ‘upside-down’ bird, its talons are sharp so it can hang comfortably in almost any position. In fact, when it lands on the feeder, it invariably does so in an upside-down position. If you would like to lure them to your yard, your best bet is to
- Slather peanut butter onto pine cones and hang them from tree limbs.
- In the wintertime, peanut suet is another great enticement for nuthatches.
- Planting evergreen trees is another sure way to tempt nuthatches to visit your backyard.
They will be drawn to the rough bark, where lots of bugs like to hide. Birds that work their way up a tree can easily miss little critters tucked under the bark. Nuthatches find what other birds have missed!
This video, from bhg (Better Homes & Gardens), tells about the Top 5 Pine Trees to plant, particularly in northern climates where white-breasted nuthatches thrive in wintertime.
Foods Nuthatches Love
Favorite Bird Feeder Foods
Favorite Foods from Nature
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Insects Found Under Tree Bark
Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Pine Cone Seeds
Two Other Nuthatches
Pygmy Nuthatch is only 4.25 inches, loves Ponderosa, Douglas fir and Monterey pine trees, and lives in the southern and north-western part of the U.S. and northward into Canada. Its high-pitched 'peep-peep' can sometimes escalate into an excited chatter. The Pygmy Nuthatch has a grey-brown head and a dark grey back, with a small white spot at the back of the neck. Look for them in small flocks.
Brown-Headed Nuthatch comes in at 4.5 inches and is somewhat uncommon. They prefer the pine woods of the southern U.S. Similar in appearance to the Pygmy Nuthatch, but its head is brown rather than grey-brown. You might think there's a squeaky toy in the trees, but it's a Brown-Headed Nuthatch!
My winter bird gang always includes several beautiful white breasted nuthatches. And I am very delighted to see its shy smaller cousin, the red-breasted nuthatch, although I have yet to capture a photo of it!
In the following 1-minute video from HinterlandWW, you can watch the Red-Breasted Nuthatch in action. As with the White-Breasted Nuthatch, they stay busy combing trees and branches for tasty insects and their larvae.
The Red-Breasted Nuthatch, video from HinterlandWW
Where to Find White-Breasted Nuthatches
White-Breasted Nuthatches are found in most of the U.S., and their range includes parts of Canada as well. They are familiar sights at bird feeders, particularly in the wintertime.
My nuthatches disappear during the summertime when the weather is warmer. I suspect they retreat into the cooler woods where insects are abundant. I look for them again in the fall when leaves start to turn. From then through late spring they are daily visitors at the suet and seed feeders.
If you should happen to be so lucky as to have nuthatches visiting your feeders and trees, be sure to tell them how handsome they are. You will be rewarded with their upside-down antics, and you will surely have a lot less insects to deal with as well!
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