Nuthatches are odd little birds in our woods

If you are interested in birds at all, you will know about the “upside down” birds of our northern woods.
No other birds in this area run down trees head first. We have two species of these curious little birds.
The larger of the two is the white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). About the size of a sparrow, it has a completely white face, with deep black on its crown and the back of its neck.
Its back is distinctly blue; its front is completely white.
The other one—the red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)—is quite a bit smaller. It is similar to its larger cousin, but has a broad black stripe through its eye and its breast is quite reddish.
If you are looking for birds in the woods, you usually will see this one. In farm or built-up areas, usually the other one will appear.
Where the two areas overlap, it is quite common to find both.
Nuthatches are particularly useful birds. All of this creeping around trees and branches is a search for food.
In the winter, this food is made up almost entirely of insect eggs and pupae, as well as dormant insects. One bird will eat several thousand of these items in a single day.
In one case, the crop of a nuthatch was found to contain more than 1,600 insect eggs—and this was only one meal for one bird.
They also are fond of nuts and seeds. Seeds such as sunflower are wedged into the crevice of a tree and then hammered open.
The same thing happens to acorns or hazelnuts, and that’s where the name “nuthatch” comes from (actually, the original name was “nut-hack” from England as the bird hacked nuts apart with its beak).
Nuthatches nest in hollow trees—old woodpecker holes and the like. They can, and do, make their own nests, and they will take up residence in birdboxes, although not too often.
They easily will come to bird feeders, especially if there is suet available.
They certainly are not very alarmed by people, and will learn to eat out of your hand quite quickly.
The song of the white-breasted nuthatch is very much like a man whistling for his dog. It is quite a pleasant song and, unlike many birds, the nuthatch sings all year and not just in the spring.
It also makes some funny noises—one in particular is a very nasal “ark” or “quark,” repeated endlessly. Another is a rather soft “hit-hit.”
Since nuthatches have a habit of talking to themselves most of the time, you probably will hear this bird long before you spot him creeping along the branches.
Generally, we can consider these birds as year-round residents, although at times a sort of migration occurs. The birds further north tend to drift south sometimes.
Our two nuthatches are odd, friendly, and useful birds to have around.

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