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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Not Bird brained, the White-breasted Nuthatch is Surprising

Take a walk through the woods, or even by your birdfeeder and you eventually will hear the unmistakable call of the White-breasted Nuthatch. Let’s just say that for a small bird they tend to be boisterous.

Their nasal “wah-wah-wah” call is often described as sounding like a laughing monkey. Nuthatches make three kinds of vocalizations: calls, songs and feeding calls…and they are not afraid to use them.

These non-migratory birds are year-round residents. Sometimes referred to as the “upside down bird” White-breasted Nuthatches are easily identifiable by their gray/blue plumage and their propensity to clamber down trees headfirst. This is possible because of a large, backward facing toe called the hallux which grips the bark as they lift their other foot.

There is another characteristic of the Nuthatch that makes them unique, the way they eat. White-breasted Nuthatches will wedge seeds or nuts between the crevices in the bark of trees then hack or “hatch” them open with their beak. That is where their name is derived from.

A Nuthatch climbs upside down
“Nimble & sure-footed, the tiny, White-breasted Nuthatch is a delight to see.” Photo Credit: Antler Ridge

Surprisingly little is known about their nesting habits, because they make their homes in the confines of abandoned woodpecker holes or natural cavities in trees. Squirrels are the main competitor for their nest sites and the White-breasted Nuthatch has a novel way to defend them. Studies have shown, these tiny birds will “bill sweep” cavity entrances using crushed noxious smelling insects, primarily blister beetles to dissuade the would-be intruders. So much for the term “bird brained.” 

“House-thieves, the clever Nuthatch knows how to dissuade the owners from coming back.” Photo Credit: Antler Ridge