Friday, November 16, 2007

What About Nuthatches? Plus the Melon and Dove Updates.

This Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis, has been around for some time but I'd not gotten a photograph of him. For ID note the black line that runs through the eye, white line above and a rusty anterior. But today, when I dumped the chunk of ice out of the bowl and put in liquid water. The bowl then had more than 60 visits from numerous species in the first half hour and so I was able to photograph him. The birds were thirsty.

The Bird Water Public Service Message: Supplying liquid water to wildlife is important in freezing weather. (Besides you'll see many more species of birds that way. Particularly if there is a shortage of drinkable water nearby.)

Yes, birds can conceivably get their own water.

They can fly a distance to find open water. Which is no doubt further away than it used to be because we've drained so many wetlands.

Little birds can wait for a Blue Jay to rap a crack in the ice if there is liquid underneath. I'm assuming the wait is longer these days with the dearth of Blue Jays.

They can eat snow when there is some. But they have to eat a good deal of snow in order to get enough moisture and it chills them.

So make it easier for everyone and get a bath warmer or just be sure to make the liquid form available everyday.

And now back to Nuthatches.

As I was saying this Red-breasted Nuthatch has been around for some months. I've been hearing his squeaky-toy call most days in the back yard. Though I didn't see or hear him during breeding season.

They like to winter in conifers and the yard has several. As far as I know though there aren't any breeding cavities within the yard so that rather explains that.

I'd thought it interesting that though the White-breasted Nuthatch is more numerous I hadn't seen one here. That was until I made fresh water available today---

And there he was, a White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis, sitting on the edge of the bowl seeking a drink. Nuthatches have always reminded me of chunky woodpeckers. But as it turns out they aren't closely related at all. They've seemingly evolved somewhat similar characteristics through separate lines, to suit their similar foraging styles. Nuthatches go both up and headfirst down trees while the Woodpeckers only go up headfirst.

All Nuthatches have a slight up angle to their beak position. Somewhat like the angle on a swordfish, which they aren't closely related to either. In fact Nuthatches don't vary all that much anywhere. All North American species are in the same genus. In fact 24 of the family's 25 species worldwide are in the same genus-- Sitta.

So to ID this species, you'll note in the White-breasted's case there is no black line through the eye. He's larger than the Red. His little black eye looks smaller than the Red-breasted's and his undertail coverts are chestnut. Go ahead, take a peek under his tail.

Yes, this is a male. NO, no, there is no obvious difference in genitalia. In fact you can't see any genitalia at all. You were looking for the chestnut area for possible help in identifying one someday, remember? Just in case the only view you have is under his tail. Right.

Now if the bird were female, she would have a grey cap as opposed to the black one, and her back would have more of a grey cast to it as well.

Terrific you say, but how about getting to the important part? Just why are these birds called Nuthatches?

I've always wondered that myself and I finally got around to looking it up. Though I've read it in several places the commonly held answer is a little, well, possibly a little bit of a stretch.

Nuthatches stash food. Specifically they jam hard food like sunflower seeds and nuts into bark crevices.

They stash nuts so that's the first part of the name. I can go for that.

Now things get a little dicey in my opinion. Nuthatches store food by hacking (hatching) or we would say jamming nuts into the crevices in bark. But if we said jamming, they'd be Nutjams and that just wouldn't do. Think of all the field guides that would need to be reprinted.

In fact one species of Nuthatch uses tools. The Brown-headed Nuthatch holds a little piece of bark in his beak to pry off other sections of bark in order to get at the invertebrates underneath.

Getting on now, I'm told that Nuthatches don't usually migrate but White-breasted Nuthatches may, in poor food years. When this occurs it's called an irruption and it seems to happen not all that infrequently. Sometimes Whites make it as far down as Texas. So is this one a migrant? That could be why I hadn't seen him around before.

By the way speaking of irruptions, I hear from folks in Minnesota that the Owls are coming down again in a major way as they did the year the Boreal Owl showed up in Central Park. So keep your eyes peeled. It could be a very good year for owls.

AND NOW FOR THE UPDATES: First off, remember in Battle of the Bath 3 when Mr. Junco was attempting to bathe and was double teamed by the two above who drove him out of the bath. They tried double bombing in again today but he ignored them this time and now they are standing there trying to figure out just what could have gone wrong.

Secondly, why do a Goldfinch and House Finch hang out together all the time? I don't know, but they seem to be best friends. And their goal in life is to hassle Mr. Junco at the bird bath. A finch winter sport?

Ah ha, that's it! If the birds had to go further for a drink they'd be tired and they
wouldn't need winter sports and Mr Junco could bathe in peace. Or not.

Here's part of the flock and you'll note the two Mourning Doves up near the grass. No that's not a third dove up there. That's a chewed gourd.

There is a third though. Doorstep was sitting below the step by the door out of frame. I figure if it gets just a touch colder that she'll be back up on the doorstep getting some warmth through the crack under the door. The doves are coming back after their fright, though they haven't congregated on the bowl at sunset for a couple of days now. Probably for the best considering.

And remember how I was going to see if Fluffy the Possum came back for a second helping of squishy melon? Well, I suspected that a diurnal animal might take a shot at the melon so I got up slightly before dawn to check it. Fluffy hadn't been there. But a bit later in the day, a squirrel destroyed the study specimen. That's nature for you. The variables are everywhere.

Donegal Browne

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