White-breasted Nuthatch

When I first stepped out onto the front porch this morning, I heard the nasal awnk-awnk calls of a White-breasted Nuthatch and soon found it, pausing head down on the trunk of an oak and craning its neck to look up. A White-breasted Nuthatch is a sleek, striking bird, with a blue-gray back; short stubby tail; long slender bill, and a black cap that contrasts sharply with a snow-white face, throat and breast. Its demeanor is bold, sometimes even pugnacious, and it calls often in a loud nasal voice as it moves.

From the first tree trunk, it flew to another, and another, making its way through the yard. Each time, it flew to a spot several feet up on the trunk of a tree, then moved down the trunk head-first in a wide, curving way, until it reached the bottom of the tree or the ground. A couple of times it pecked at something on the ground, but it didn’t stay long before flying to another tree, and starting over again. It never lingered long in one spot, and didn’t seem to find a particular spot or a tree much to its liking. It looked as if it was searching for something it never found, but I think maybe it just moved too quickly for me to see the seeds, nuts or insects it found. It stayed around for several minutes, constantly on the move, and calling often. At times it came quite close to where I stood, so I could watch its behavior and appearance very close-up, close enough to see the smudge of coral color under its tail.

A White-breasted Nuthatch is not as common here in our neighborhood as the smaller Brown-headed Nuthatch. Ten years ago, I rarely saw one at all, but over the past few years they’ve steadily become more frequent, and now I hear or see one almost every day.

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