Photo: Melanie Foose
There is a charming little songbird I enjoy watching through all
seasons. He is not an uncommon bird, and one that I’m sure most of you have observed, but one that so peculiar and so fascinating to watch.
The white-breasted nuthatch is a one of two nuthatches we have in Michigan, and the more common of the two at my backyard birdfeeder. He has a sharp colored steel gray or blue back, head and neck with a contrasting bright white face and underparts. He is a bird simply lovely in profile and with a unique pattern of feeding by slinking down the trunk of a tree head-first, and eating side-ways or upside-down. The name nuthatch is in reference to a behavior of feeding by smacking seeds or acorns against trees in order to release the meat inside. They also have a habit of storing food beneath the bark of trees or covering it with leaves or bits of moss to enjoy later.
Nuthatches have a varied diet consisting of the aforementioned seeds and acorns, as well as insects, spiders, and caterpillars. To attract them to your bird feeder, entice them with sunflower seeds,
peanuts, suet and peanut butter.
The white-breasted nuthatch is found in deciduous woods or wooded edges, as well as open areas with larger maple, hickory, basswood or oak trees. They are also found in residential areas. Conversely,
Michigan’s other nuthatch, the red-breasted nuthatch, prefers similar habitats but around coniferous woods. Of course, their habitats will overlap and I have observed both species at my feeders.
With nesting season at hand, you may wish to take a listen when you’re out of doors for the male’s song, a “wha-wha-wha”, or their call, a loud “yank”, and a softer “yank”, when they’re searching for food. If his song is successful and he attracts a female, she will make a nest in the cavity of a tree from fur, bark and small clumps of dirt for 5-6 eggs, white in color with red-brown speckles. Even after nesting season, the two will stick together throughout the year and into the winter until the following Spring.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
For a truly pleasurable birding experience, visit Kensington Metropark where you can walk along the trails near the Nature Center feeding chickadees, tufted titmice, and even nuthatches directly from your hand!