Who doesn’t love a nuthatch? These cute little birds are the ones that can climb down tree trunks head first as well as up! They are common visitors to backyard bird feeders where they enjoy sunflower seeds, suet and peanuts. Their call is an easily distinguished nasally sounding “ank” and love nuts, hence their name.
The White-breasted is our most conspicuous nuthatch in Connecticut but we also get the Red-Breasted on occasion. Red-breasted Nuthatches are here some winters but gone others depending upon availability of food supplies, especially seeds from conifer trees. They do nest in Connecticut and Jim and I even found one nesting within a mile of the store. But we have only had them at our feeders on a few occasions (they eat mostly insects in the summer so don't often visit feeders during that season). We have very few evergreens in our immediate area and the Red-breasted Nuthatches tend to be found in areas with a lot of conifers.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is a small bird (only 5-6") with a slate gray back, white belly and neck with a thin, long bill. The underside of the tail feathers are chestnut. They are cavity nesters and occasionally use man-made bird houses. They are found over most of North America in deciduous woods, suburbs and large parks so long as there are enough large trees. Their diet consists of mostly insects in summer but also seeds, especially in winter when they become much more a part of their diet. The pair remains together on their nesting grounds throughout the entire year and they may mate for life. Courtship begins in late winter (much earlier than most other birds found in your backyard). The nest is built from bark, grasses, hair and feathers usually 15-60 feet above ground. The clutch is usually 5-9 eggs, white spotted with reddish brown. Incubation lasts 12-14 days. Both parents feed the young and they have only one brood per year. We were fortunate enough this spring to find a nesting pair on one of our birdwalks along the bike path in Hamden. They also have a “roost” hole that they use all winter to keep warm.
Both the Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches spread secretions from the tree or crushed insects and mud around the entrance to the nest - probably to discourage predators. The nuthatches fly directly into the cavity without stopping first so they don’t get these secretions on their feathers.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a bit smaller than the White-breasted, has a dark line through the eye, is rusty red on the breast and belly and slate gray on the back. It also walks up and down tree trunks and along branches like it’s cousin. They use a cavity in a tree made from a woodpecker or a natural hole but rarely use man-made birdhouses. The nest cavity is lined with soft grass, moss, bark fibers and feathers, and usually contains 5-6 eggs that are white spotted with reddish-brown. The female incubates the eggs and the male brings her food while she is on the nest. Both parents feed the young and they have only one brood per year.
You probably get the White-breasted Nuthatch at your feeders so long as you have sunflower seed in your feeder, but if you want to give them a treat try some shelled peanuts. You can either mix them in with your regular seed or place them in a tray feeder or a special "peanut" feeder.
White-breasted Nuthatch ©jimzipp.com
A few large Pinecones
3/4 Cup Chunky Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Cornmeal
1 Cup Mixed Bird Seed
(You may add dried fruit and other nuts to the bird seed mixture as well)
Mix the peanut butter and cornmeal together. Spread onto pinecones. Dredge the pinecone in the seed mixture. Hang outdoors with twine for the birds (nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, jays and of course the furry critters) to enjoy!
Red-breasted Nuthatch ©jimzipp.com