BIRD-WATCHING: Quick nuthatches move in small numbers

<p>These little nuthatches move so quickly they are hard to photograph.</p>

There are at least three species of nuthatches that we see at our back porch feeding stations. The most numerous are the small red-breasted nuthatches. But occasionally we get to see the much larger white-breasted nuthatch. They don’t seem to ever travel in groups, but they like to hang around with flocks of chickadees.

Their actions are jerky and quick, so I was lucky to photograph this male white-breasted nuthatch on our deck railing. They really like the suet blocks we put out, but this bird was after sunflower seeds. They can’t crack them like the members of the finch family so they grab a single seed and fly to the nearest tree where they hold it down with one foot and peck it open so they can eat the kernel.

White-breasted nuthatches are cavity nesters like the other smaller species, but their nesting habits are totally different from all of the other nuthatches. Instead of hatching two broods of chicks that so many other songbirds do, they raise one large brood a year. They usually lay eight to 10 eggs and their chicks are born blind and naked. But when they leave the nest they are fully feathered. Of course they have to be fed for at least two weeks before they learn to find their own food.

They soon learn to find most of their food by traveling down the bark of a tree upside down so they can find numerous small insects and larvae that other birds miss.

In addition to the huge quantities of insect eggs, they eat weevils, leaf beetles and plant lice.

White-breasted nuthatches range from southern Canada, northern Montana and all the way across to Maine. The ones we have here in Northeast Oregon spend the winter in Mexico and Baja California.

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