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Pagosa Springs
Friday, September 29, 2023

Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the white-breasted nuthatch.

These birds are a familiar sight to those of us who keep feeders stocked with sunflower seeds and suet. At this time of year, they are busy stashing seeds in the crevices of tree bark to ensure a winter food supply. The name nuthatch refers to their habit of hammering nuts with their bills to tear them apart and “hatch” the seeds.

White-breasted nuthatches are often seen moving headfirst down the trunk of a tree, probing gaps and holes in the bark to uncover the insects that are the mainstay of their diet in warmer months. This orientation allows them to look for food hiding in these spaces. In all seasons, they are vocal birds whose calls alert you to their presence even when they are not visible.

These birds live year-round across the United States and Canada in diverse habitat types as long as there are mature trees. They are territorial throughout the year, with pairs staying together and defending their space. It is not unusual to witness a threat display at feeders where this nuthatch puts on a “tough guy act” by spreading its wings and swaying back and forth to make itself look larger than it is.

This small bird has a blue-gray back, white cheeks and belly, and wears a black cap. It appears to have no neck and has a long, pointed bill. Both sexes look alike, although the female’s cap is not as dark.

You can contribute to science by observing birds at your feeders in winter and joining Cornell Lab’s Project Feederwatch. Details are at feederwatch.org.

For information on activities, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

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