I had never seen a nuthatch of any kind until Norman arrived in my garden last fall. Suddenly there he was, a tiny flying badger, making peeping noises like the world’s smallest truck backing up in the lilac tree.
Norman is a red-breasted nuthatch, close cousin to the white-breasted, brown-headed and pygmy nuthatches, and the elusive brown creeper.
Now, every morning when I go into the garden, after issuing my standard crazy bird lady greeting to the assembled avian company, “Hi there, Birdy McBirdles!” — I’m looking to see if I can spot Norman.
I’ve given him a name since he’s easy to identify, being the only nuthatch in the garden. Some time in late fall a second one showed up, but after a few days of noisy squabbling we seem to be back down to one.
The Cornell information on them describes the red-breasted nuthatch as “an intense bundle of energy at your feeder” — and that does just about sum up Norman.
He’s a zoomer.
Zooms down to the feeder, back up to the trees — up and down, dozens of times a day.
Pretty fearless too, whipping by inches from my head, and unfazed if I walk right beside the feeder. The other birds are off in a feathery flurry if I get too close, but Norman and his dauntless black-capped chickadee buddies tend to stand their ground.
Norman often zigzags down the trees head first, like a Skeleton competitor. He is aided in this manoeuvre by the large hook-like claws on his back toes.
He’s a picky eater and will often perch at the feeder pulling out, and impatiently discarding, one morsel after another until he finally unearths the specific one he was looking for, usually a nice big peanut.
He’ll fly off to a nearby tree and jam the nut prize into a bark crevice where he can pick away at it at his leisure. The tree bark is also the source of the tasty bugs that make up the rest of his diet.
Another cool fact about red-breasted nuthatches — they smear the entrance to their nests (usually excavated in a decaying tree or stump) with sticky resin, presumably to ward off predators or would-be lodgers. To avoid getting stuck themselves, they’ve perfected the art of diving directly and neatly into the nest.
I hope Norman can find himself a mate and they will have fun making a glue-guarded nest. Maybe we’ll see some nuthatch babies later this spring.
I’ll keep you posted on the Norman News.
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