Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

White-breasted Nuthatch

Wow! This afternoon about 4:30, I stepped out my front door, and for the first time ever, here around our house, saw a White-breasted Nuthatch. It was working its way along a large branch of a pecan tree, only a few feet away from me. As it moved, it repeatedly made a soft, low, nasal call.

Although I’m still very much enjoying watching the Red-breasted Nuthatches that have become regulars around our yard and feeders this fall, and always love the lively personalities of our year-round Brown-headed Nuthatches, this White-breasted Nuthatch is by far the most striking of the three in appearance. It looked regal – noticeably larger than the others, with a somewhat more upright and graceful posture, not so hunched down, and clean, crisp coloring – a pure, almost gleaming white breast contrasted sharply with glossy black cap and half-collar, and slate-gray back and wings. Its black eyes looked bright and keen against a white face, and its long dark bill turned up just slightly on the end.

One reason I could see it so well is that almost all of the leaves have fallen now from the pecan trees, and most from the oaks, leaving many bare branches open to view. I stood for several minutes watching as it worked its way up the branch, pausing to examine spots, to peck at the bark, and sometimes to turn head-downward for a minute or two. When it neared the end of the branch, it flew to another pecan tree nearby, and began the same pattern.

I think it may have been around for a while. Several days ago, I heard a nuthatch calling, and the sound was lower and more guttural than the Red-breasted Nuthatch’s usual ank-ank. I wasn’t sure then, but now I think what I heard may have been a White-breasted Nuthatch, and now I’ll be listening more carefully for both and hoping to see this one again.

It seems like this fall might be remembered as the Year of the Nuthatches.


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