Bird of the Week: Red-breasted Nuthatch

Of the four species of nuthatch native to the United States, the Red-breasted is the only species that regularly enters Central Texas. Although it’s only about the size of a chickadee, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is blessed with a large and powerful bill that distinguishes it immediately– not to mention its distinctive “yank” call, which has been likened to a honking horn or a child’s toy. These active and gymnastic birds are a sight to behold when foraging, clambering up, down, and around branches with an agility that seems to defy gravity. As its name suggests, the nuthatch uses its bill to crack open seeds, which it wedges into crevices to hold in place while it goes to work. Nuthatches also use their bills to excavate nests, a somewhat unusual habit for such a small bird. After constructing the nest, which is a team effort between the male and female, they line the entrance with pine sap; while it’s not exactly clear why they do this, one hypothesis is that they use the sap as a sticky deterrent to potential predators. However, this also means that they have to be very careful entering their own nests!

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.
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