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Natural North Dakota

Red-Breasted Nuthatches


The comings and goings at our bird feeders has been rather routine this winter.  We are getting the usual chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, pine siskins, downy and hairy woodpeckers on a regular basis.  But we are seeing a few red-breasted nuthatches coming in for the suet and sunflower seeds.  

It is always a treat to see these little feather balls.  Like their cousin the white-breasted nuthatch, they may peck away at the suet for a bit.  But when it comes to sunflower seeds, they fly in, pick up one seed, and fly away to eat it in a safe place.  It is as if they know they are vulnerable at the feeder and are anxious to get back to protective cover.   

 Most of you are probably familiar with the white-breasted nuthatch.  The red-breasted nuthatch is noticeably smaller than its white-breasted cousin.  As the name implies, the underside is reddish or rusty colored and there is a quite distinctive black strip running through the eye. 

The white-breasted nuthatch, of course, is one of the more common visitors to our bird feeders throughout the year.  They are permanent residents in our area.  That is not true for the red-breasted nuthatch.  They typically spend their summers in the coniferous forest across much of Canada and the Rocky Mountains.  We are near the edge of their winter range, which covers much of the U.S. south and east of North Dakota.  Red-breasted nuthatches are also known for their periodic “irruptions” further south in their normal range if the seed crop of conifers is low. That may be a factor this year.    

When I am outside, I can often spot them after hearing their call, which has been described as a nasal “annk, annk, annk.”  Here it is... “Nuthatch calls” …It is similar to the white-breasted nuthatch’s soft and nasal “what, what, what” with a little higher pitch.  By the way, if you need some help with bird calls, you may want to check out the All About Birds website hosted by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology or perhaps the iBird Pro app for your cell phone.

So, listen for that nasal “aank, annk, annk” when your outside! And keep your bird feeders well stocked with sunflower seeds and suet.  You may discover a new friend, or perhaps renew an old acquaintance.

-Chuck Lura

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