While doing some cleaning up in the yard a week or so ago, I heard the familiar yap yap yap of a nuthatch above me. Until that moment, I hadn't realized that I hadn't heard them in awhile. Some find their repetitive chatter annoying, but I like it.
As I worked around the large oak tree just outside our back door, I looked up at the feeder, and saw two red-breasted nuthatches looking for food there. The feeder was nearly empty and I made a mental note to fill it when I finished my work.
What's the difference between a red-breasted nuthatch and a white-breasted one?
The answer to that might seem obvious, but it can be confusing. The red-breasted nuthatch has a cinnamon-colored breast, as you might expect. But the white-breasted also has some cinnamon coloring to its underside, closer to the tail. The best way to distinguish between the two is by their eye markings. The red-breasted has a distinctive black band running through its eye area. The white-breasted does not.
I filled the feeders and then watched to see if they would stick around and dine some more. As luck would have it, I didn't see any for several days after that. But this morning, they're here in numbers. One by one, they fly in to grab a seed from the platform feeder and take it to the safety of the tree. Over and over, they make the trip to the feeder and back. They're eating from the hanging feeder too.
There's a reason we're seeing red-breasted nuthatches here. We're experiencing an irruption. When birds travel in numbers outside their usual territory, it's most often due to a shortage of food. This year, there was a decline in the number of pine cones - one of the red-breasted nuthatch's favorite foods - in the north. So, they went in search of them elsewhere. My yard!
Northern birders have been reporting regular sightings of them since the irruption began in August. This graph, adapted from eBird.org, shows the frequency with which the red-breasted nuthatch has been seen at a nearby observation station (seven miles from our house) for the year so far:
|Sightings are definitely UP!|
Of course I'm hoping they'll stay all winter and maybe if I keep the feeders full, they will. Even if they don't, I'm sure enjoying them now!