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Posts Tagged ‘nuthatch’

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This is the little squirrel bird.

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Squirrel bird

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This little nuthatch was only about 25 feet up this dead hickory tree, so it was somewhat difficult for me to zoom in.

Nuthatches explore the nooks and crannies that appear on dead or dying trees. These nooks and crannies are home to several species of wood-devouring beetle grub, which are a delicacy for white-breasted nuthatches.

Both white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches are common visitors to bird feeders. I used to spend hours watching the birds at my grandparents’ bird feeders.  The nuthatches were one of my favorite species because they could position themselves at any angle in order to access the seeds.

When I was about 8 or 9, I saw a nature program that was a behind the scenes documentary about how wildlife photographers worked. One of the photographers featured was Dieter Plage, who had all these elaborate blinds for stalking his subjects. I later learned that he died while filming from a small airship. The airship was being used to film the canopy of a forest in Sumatra, when it got tangled up in the trees. Plage tried to get himself out of the jam, but he wound up falling to his death.

At the time, Plage was still alive, and I was hit with a touch of inspiration. I decided to make my own “blind” so I could take photos of birds. Never mind that these bird feeder visitors were quite habituated to people and had no real fear of humans.  I wanted my own blind, so I could be a wildlife photographer!

I took out a few cushions from grandparents’ deck furniture, which they were storing in the house over the winter. I set them up against the sliding glass door, which gave me a perfect view of the feeders. I soon had a little tent of cushions set up, and I climbed into my living room bivouac.

There was heavy snow that winter, and all sorts of birds were coming into the feeder, including some that usually kept only to the Great Lakes or the very highest parts of the Alleghenies.

I snapped dozens of photos of them, but I didn’t have the ability to zoom in. It was my grandmother’s camera that she used for photographing the family. It had no telephoto capabilities.  It just a point and shoot.

In those days, the cameras had film that had to be developed, something that sounds utterly Stone Age in this modern digital camera age, so it was a few weeks before I saw what the images were.

There were dozens of photos. All of them were of bird feeders, but one couldn’t make out what species of bird they were. They were not zoomed in at all. You could pick out the male cardinals, but that was it.

And every photo had a bit of the cushions in the image. In more than a few of these photos, the cushion was the only thing visible.

During the summer months, one is likely only to encounter a white-breasted nuthatch in the deeper parts of the forest. They do not nest in suburban backyards.

Around these parts, I almost always find them in stands of hickory. They are known to eat both acorns and hickory nuts. This bird likely uses this dead tree as its “nut hatch.”   During the winter months, they take acorns and hickory nuts and wedge them up against notches in the bark. They then use their sharp bills to drill the nut open.

They also will cache their nuts and seeds in little notches in trees.

They are essentially little birds that live very much like squirrels.

If we didn’t already have the name “nuthatch” to describe this species, I would have suggest that they call it the “squirrel bird.”

If you think that name suggestion is lame, keep in mind that we call a bizarrely a derived raptor a “secretary bird.”

And they aren’t anything like personal assistants!

 

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