Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)
Along with the change of seasons, you may also have noticed the arrival of this week’s Beak of the Week: the Red-breasted Nuthatch. The Red-breasted Nuthatch can be found year-round in the northern and western parts of the United States, and can be found further south during winter. They can occur in much greater numbers during irruptive winters, which we are experiencing this year. Already Red-breasted Nuthatches have been spotted in Sugar Land, Pecan Grove, League City, and Galveston.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are a small bird with a gray back and wings, a short gray tail, lightly rufous underside, a white head with three black bands passing over the top of the head and through the eyes from the base of the bill. Equipped with long, thin, black-gray bills, and strong, anisodactyl feet, Red-breasted Nuthatches appear to defy gravity as they walk up, down, and around tree branches and trunks, feeding on insects hiding in the tee bark crevices. They are known to take larger seeds from bird feeders, breaking them against tree bark using their powerful bills.
Because their bills are strong, Red-breasted Nuthatches are able to excavate their own nests in trees, an ability usually reserved for woodpeckers. Both males and females will work at excavating nest. This species will often chose trees with soft wood, dead or partially dead trees, and trees with damaged crown branches. Pairs of nuthatches will coat the insides and outsides of nest entrances with conifer sap, sometimes using pieces of wood to do so. Populations in the western part of the country live in coniferous forests, while eastern populations can often be found in deciduous forests.
By Sarah Lefoley, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
📸 Photos by Greg Lavaty