Sunday, November 18, 2012

Red-breasted Nuthatches!

Bird migration is complex and not as well understood as you might think. All migratory North American birds don't simply go south for the winter every winter. The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a good example. It's a northern species that lives in the pine forests of Canada and the northern USA. (I visit relatives in Montana some summers, and the Red-breasted Nuthatch's toy-horn-like call is a ubiquitous sound of the woods there.) Its winter movements are irruptive. The birds travel south for the winter based on their ability to find food. Most winters we don't see many Red-breasted Nuthatches in central Texas. This winter is an exception. There are many reports of this species from local birders this season, and even I have seen a few in the Austin area.

I've never seen this species in our neighborhood, so for the past few weeks I've kept my eyes and ears open for one here. I've birded the streets a couple times. Red-breasted Nuthatches are closely related to our year-round resident Carolina Chickadee and Black-crested Titmouse, which are both species that are easier to find in the mature native trees among our houses (mostly Cedar Elms) than along the hike-and-bike trail. So I thought my best bet to find a Nuthatch was to walk around our neighborhood. Today this strategy paid off. This morning I left my house around 9:00 and walked down Stillforest towards Meadowheath. About halfway down Stillforest I heard one, then two Red-breasted Nuthatches calling. I found the birds and got this photo:

Red-breasted Nuthatch

I made my way to the Lake Creek Trail footbridge where I encountered several birders looking for the American Bittern we found during the monthly group walk a couple weeks ago.
Unfortunately we didn't see the bittern. (The last report of it I've gotten was from Thursday.) But it was nice talking with other birders and hanging around in such nice weather.

On my way back I encountered a large mixed-species foraging flock of birds on Cedarhurst, including Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse, many Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a couple Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, a single Blue-headed Vireo, and yet another Red-breasted Nuthatch. Here's a photo:

Red-breasted Nuthatch

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is the 214th species of bird I've observed in our neighborhood since I moved here in 2004. Keep your eyes and ears open for them this winter!


thismachine said...

Nice! I'm still looking for one in the county. Had quite a few in Houston this weekend.

Mikael Behrens said...

Ah! Which county? Are you playing the county year game?

thismachine said...

Travis. I'm unintentionally kind of playing the county year game, mosty because I've been out with Kenny enough to have a decent-ish number so far this year.

Knockout53 said...

Just saw a red-breasted nuthatch in my yard this afternoon. Wasn't sure what it was, researched my books and when I saw your picture, knew it was right. I live near MoPac and 2222 in a very wooded area. Lots of Carolina Chickadees, Black-crested Titmouse, and a few Yellow-rumped warblers as well.

Mikael Behrens said...

Nice! They're closely related to chickadees and titmice, and often hang out with them in mixed-species flocks. You can also see similarities in their foraging behavior and hear similarities in the sounds they make.