This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the pygmy nuthatch.
Tiny pygmy nuthatches may be difficult to spot high in a ponderosa pine, but their constant high-pitched, single-note chattering lets you know they are around.
Pygmy nuthatches are birds of long-needled pine forests of the West and are particularly associated with mature ponderosa forests. They are dependent upon cavities in old trees both for nesting and for roosting.
Sexes look alike, with a blue-gray back, buffy to grayish underside, large rounded head with a brownish crown and straight, sharp bill. These acrobatic birds move up and down the tree trunk and out on branches probing cracks and crevices for insects. They dig in cones for seeds, which they cache year-round in crevices and under loose bark.
Highly social birds, they travel in flocks of three to 10 birds, often mixed with chickadees and other small songbirds. It is not unusual to find five or six pygmies hanging on a suet feeder and feeding together. At night, several pygmy flocks may join together to roost in a tree cavity. Here. they survive the cold by huddling together and dropping their body temperatures to a hypothermic state.
Their social behavior extends into the breeding season where nesting may be a family affair. Often, the breeding pair excavates a hole or enlarges an existing cavity with the help of their grown offspring. These nest helpers defend the nest and provide food for the female and chicks.
Safety in numbers is a strategy which serves these tiny birds well.
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