By Russell Chappell
Common in our region, the White-breasted Nuthatch is a perennial favorite among backyard birders because of its unique body, active demeanor, and gravity-defying, effortless walking on trees. They’re the only species that can walk both up and down a tree while depending solely on the strength of their legs and not using their tails. Although their movement looks like walking, they’re actually hanging off the tree bark by their number one toe, called the hallux, and a backward-pointing toe.
Black and gray with brilliant white markings, the agile White-breasted Nuthatches satisfy their voracious appetites with a diet of insects, spiders, and large, meaty seeds. They’re easy to locate because of their loud and insistent nasal chattering as they frequent large deciduous trees or bird feeders.
White-breasted Nuthatches nest in cavities, often abandoned woodpecker nests. They prefer large natural cavities 15’ to 60′ above ground, but occasionally use a birdhouse.
These birds hatch one brood per year of five to nine white eggs with reddish-brown spots. The female remains on the nest during incubation while the male brings her food. Until they leave the nest, both parents feed the young a diet consisting solely of insects and spiders.
Many young do not make it to adulthood because of predators like squirrels, chipmunks, and raptors. Occasionally, when a predator is near, the female can be seen acting a bit strange as she leaves the nest and poses in a trance-like state, with her wings extended, swaying from side to side. Some experts believe this action presents a predator with a threatening “face” that discourages attacks.
During the winter, White-breasted Nuthatches often join foraging flocks of chickadees or titmice, perhaps to make locating food easier, while providing extra protection from predators.
This is a cute little bird, and if you’re a backyard feeder or frequent the wooded areas around Prescott, your day will be a little bit brighter when you’re rewarded with the sight and sound of a White-breasted Nuthatch. Happy birding!
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.
Russ Chappell is a long-time member and webmaster of Prescott’s local chapter of the National Audubon Society.