Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.
I wrote three weeks ago about my affinity for the nuthatches we see in New England.
In the middle and southern parts of the region we see white-breasted nuthatches much more frequently than its smaller cousin, the red-breasted nuthatch. The latter variety, however, is seen more often in the northern reaches of New England.
The red-breasted nuthatch does show up at feeders in the middle and southern parts, especially in fall and winter, but not too often and in varying degrees depending on the year. In fact, the little birds will venture all the way to Florida during winter migration.
With that said, I was happy to receive an email from Dean a few days after that column appeared.
“You mentioned red-breasted nuthatches, which reminded me that I have not seen one in years,” Dean wrote from his Marlborough, Conn., home. “They are such cute little birds. Then two days after your article what shows up but an RBN at the feeder.”
A few days after Dean wrote me that email, I was sitting on my deck watching my feeders. It was an unending flurry of black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches and downy woodpeckers. I got so tuned into seeing those species that it didn’t immediately register in my brain that a new arrival had appeared.
“Wait. Was that a …” I thought as the new bird disappeared into the nearby hemlock branches.
Sure enough, the little bird returned, and this time, my brain was ready for it. Yes indeed, a red-breasted nuthatch. Similar to Dean, it was the first one I had seen in years.
Like many birds seen only on occasion, it was very brave at the feeding station. Pine siskins and redpolls are similar in that we don’t see them often, but when they do show up, they have little fear at the feeders.
The red-breasted nuthatch got right into the mix with the chickadees, titmice and white-breasted nuthatches. I was content on my deck for several minutes watching and attempting to photograph the newcomer. Dean is right. They are cute little birds.
When it wasn’t at the feeder I could hear it calling from the trees. Similar to the white-breasted nuthatch, it says “yank, yank” call but it’s a very different sound, much higher like “tiny tin horns,” according to the website Allaboutbirds.org. A red-breasted nuthatch sounds almost like a white-breasted nuthatch that hasn’t hit puberty yet.
Later that evening, I made sure the feeders were filled so when I got up the next morning there would be plenty of seeds for the birds, including the red-breasted nuthatch.
When I got up the next day, however, the bird in question was not to be found. All the other birds were there, flitting from branch to feeder perch, but not the small nuthatch. Blue jays and a red-bellied woodpecker joined the fray, but the little guy (or girl) was gone.
I was bummed at the sudden disappearance, but took solace in knowing that someone else, perhaps someone who hasn’t seen a red-breasted nuthatch in years like Dean and me, was likely going to be the next host for this bird.