Innocent Bystander

Mike Oxley

Cornwall Ontario, Canada

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White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Cooper Marsh Conservation Area, Lancaster, Ontario, Canada
November 26, 2011

Sony Alpha 700, Sigma 170 to 500 at 400 mm
iso 400, spot metered, F6.3, 1/250 second

A spring-like day in the GWN today. A little overcast with a watery sun trying its best to peek through the clouds and a lovely 11 degrees. A great day to visit The Marsh, feed the chickadees and maybe get a few shots. And, hopefully, not run into any weird woodland creatures…. Alas, I hoped in vain, but this is not the place for that.

There’s one area where the Chickadees hang out, so I stopped there for a bit and about a dozen of the wee buggers appeared. They started dive-bombing me, landing on me, the camera, the tripod, skidding off the lens and perching in nearby trees until I produced a handful of sunflower seeds. Mayhem ensued. Lurking in the background was this Nuthatch watching the goings on, and it almost joined in the chaos. But after one quick flyby and much swearing from the Chickadees, it decided to watch from the sidelines.

With thanks to

A common feeder bird with clean black, grey, and white markings, White-breasted Nuthatches are active, agile little birds with an appetite for insects and large, meaty seeds. They get their common name from their habit of jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then whacking them with their sharp bill to “hatch” out the seed from the inside. White-breasted Nuthatches may be small but their voices are loud, and often their insistent nasal yammering will lead you right to them.

The White-breasted Nuthatch is normally territorial throughout the year, with pairs staying together. The male has to spend more time looking out for predators when he’s alone than while he’s with his mate. That’s the pattern for most birds, and one reason why birds spend so much time in flocks. But the female nuthatch has to put up with the male pushing her aside from foraging sites, so she spends more time looking around (for him) when he’s around than when she is alone.

In winter, White-breasted Nuthatches join foraging flocks led by chickadees or titmice, perhaps partly because it makes food easier to find and partly because more birds can keep an eye out for predators. One study found that when titmice were removed from a flock, nuthatches were more wary and less willing to visit exposed bird feeders.

The oldest known White-breasted Nuthatch was 9 years 10 months old.

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