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White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatches visit my backyard birdfeeders. They are very easy to identify with a gray-blue back, white face, black or gray cap, and long narrow bill.

Excerpt from new Backyard Guide Series

The word “nuthatch” refers to their habit of wedging a seed in a crevice and then hacking or “hatching” it open by pounding at it with their chisel-like bill. Nuthatches are often referred to as “upside-down birds” because they forage by probing tree trunks with their heads facing downward. During their journeys down the trunk of a tree, they often pause, and then raise their head so that it is parallel to the ground—a unique posture among birds. The best-known family member is the white-breasted nuthatch, a bird of deciduous woods and tree-filled backyards. In woodlands, listen for the nuthatch’s nasal honking calls anytime. Males and females always forage near each other and, in winter, in a mixed flock with chickadees and titmice.

The white-breasted nuthatch eats both insects and seeds, varying its fare with the seasons. Insects make up nearly 100 percent of their summer diet, with seeds being added in fall and winter. Autumn’s extra seeds and nuts are sometimes stashed in tree bark crevices to be eaten later. White-breasted nuthatches will come to feeders for black-oil sunflower and other seeds, peanuts, or suet, but they tend to abandon backyard feeders almost entirely in spring and summer when insects are plentiful. Nuthatches are cavities nesters, but they seem to prefer tree cavities to nest boxes. Leaving old, dead trees standing—where this can be done safely—offers nuthatches potential foraging, “hatching,” and nesting sites.

From Western Birds: Backyard Guide
by Bill Thompson III and the Editors of Bird Watcher’s Digest



This live bird cam of Red-tailed Hawks is located in Ithaca, New York and is hosted by Cornell Lab.

Three fuzzy chicks have hatched. Viewers of the Cornell Hawks cam can tune in to see Big Red and Ezra feeding three bobbly headed, downy-white chicks. The first two hatched early morning on Monday, Earth Day, as thousands of people watched. The third youngster entered the world two days later. Big Red and Ezra have been busily provisioning them with chipmunks, starlings, snakes, and other prey, which they carefully tear into small pieces before giving to the nestlings (watch a video). The first nestling’s official hatch time was 6:06 a.m. on Monday, April 22, and we have contacted the winner in the Guess the Hatch contest. Watch the nestlings live.


April 24, 2013 – The photo above shows Ezra (male Red-tailed hawk) Sheltering Family From the Rain

“We’ve seen the hawks brave all sorts of weather conditions over the last several weeks while sitting on their eggs. We have never seen them stay on the nest together during these events. Yesterday there was a downpour that lasted over 30 minutes and for the first time both parents stayed on the nest together. Ezra stood over Big Red, sheltering their nestlings from the rain.” – Cornell Lab

chickadee-thumbnail1-290x300  bird-cam


The FeederWatch Live Bird Cam now boasts HD quality viewing and a new, interactive website. The cam is still hosted by Tammie and Ben Hache in Manitouwadge, Ontario. The Haches invite you to look in on their rotating ensemble of winter birds, including redpolls, grosbeaks, nuthatches, jays, and even the occasional Ruffed Grouse. Each week the cam host posts her Project FeederWatch counts for the week and you can see whether she’s spotted something you missed. The cam is offline during the night (generally 7:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M.)

Wednesday morning I was looking out the window at the privet tree in the backyard and telling my husband that the Cedar Waxwings should be arriving soon to eat the ripe berries from the tree. They usually arrive between December and February for their winter treat. Late in the afternoon I looked out the window again and the Cedar Waxwings had come and gone! How did I know? The tree was completely stripped of berries! There were just little stems where the berries had been. I’d been waiting all year for the birds. I can’t believe they devoured all the berries and I missed them completely.

These are pictures from a couple of years ago.



See Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s newest live bird cam at The Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho of the American Kestrel. It features two views: one inside the nest box and another from the outside so you can see adults arrive and admire the western skyline. The eggs have hatched and there are five tiny baby birds!

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Today I took this photo of a male Anna’s Hummingbird at the backyard sugar-water feeder. It shows the characteristic scarlet red crown and neck of the bird. The male Anna’s Hummingbird is the only hummer in the United States with this coloration.

Photo by Nick Chill

© Nick Chill

On bright sunny days I can look up in the sky and see dark specks floating around high above. These specks are most likely Turkey Vultures. You see, I live in an area where Wild Turkeys graze the hillsides and sometimes our front yards. And, where there are Wild Turkeys, there are Turkey Vultures!

Seeing those dark specks floating high above in the clear blue sky made me wonder how high Turkey Vultures and other bird species fly, so I did some research to find if there was any data.

Stanford University essay states that vultures sometimes rise over 10,000 feet in order to scan larger areas for food (and to watch the behavior of distant vultures for clues to the location of a feast).

The essay also says, “Most birds fly below 500 feet except during migration. There is no reason to expend the energy to go higher — and there may be dangers, such as exposure to higher winds or to the sharp vision of hawks. When migrating, however, birds often do climb to relatively great heights, possibly to avoid dehydration in the warmer air near the ground. Migrating birds in the Caribbean are mostly observed around 10,000 feet, although some are found half and some twice that high. Generally long-distance migrants seem to start out at about 5,000 feet and then progressively climb to around 20,000 feet. Just like jet aircraft, the optimum cruise altitude of migrants increases as their “fuel” is used up and their weight declines. … Perhaps the most impressive altitude record is that of a flock of Whooper Swans which was seen on radar arriving over Northern Ireland on migration and was visually identified by an airline pilot at 29,000 feet. Birds can fly at altitudes that would be impossible for bats, since bird lungs can extract a larger fraction of oxygen from the air than can mammal lungs.”

© Ned Harris, Winkelman, Arizona, May 2010

Turkey Vultures fly with their wings in a dihedral or shallow V-shape, and can often be identified by this dihedral as well as by their characteristic “wobbly” rocking motion in flight. They are very graceful in flight and can soar for hours without flapping their wings. Their flapping, when it occurs, appears laborious and is usually used on take-offs and before landings.

Vultures begin flying a few hours after sunrise, after the morning air has warmed. Turkey Vultures frequently circle and gain altitude on pockets of rising warm air, or thermals. When they reach the top of the thermal, they glide across the sky at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, gradually losing altitude all the while. When they need to gain more altitude, they locate another thermal and so begins another sequence of circling, rising, and then gliding. Turkey vultures can cover many miles going from thermal to thermal without ever needing to flap their wings.

Contrary to popular belief, circling vultures do not necessarily indicate the presence of a dead animal.  Circling vultures may be gaining altitude for long flights, searching for food, or playing.

These unsteady soarers with very few wingbeats glide relatively low to the ground, sniffing for carrion, or else ride thermals of warm air rising up to higher vantage points. They may soar in small groups and roost in larger numbers. These birds ride thermals in the sky and use their keen sense of smell to find fresh carcasses. They are scavengers, cleaning up the countryside. You may see them on the ground in small groups, huddled around roadkill or dumpsters.


“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.”
~Luther Burbank, botanist (1849-1926)
Plant flowers, shrubs, and trees that provide nourishment for backyard birds. 

Although cold temperatures or other challenges may prevent some folks from planting outside at this time of year, starting seeds indoors is an option for anyone who wants to benefit from the “flower power” that Burbank describes. Indeed, many native plants will not blossom from seed in the first year unless they get a head start, due to their long growing seasons. Wildlife-attracting perennials such as blazing star, purple coneflower and bee balm are just three examples.

Homemade Pots for Seed-Starting

While seeds are often sown in flats that are purchased, they will also thrive—with proper care—in pots made out of yogurt cups, milk cartons and other household containers. Be sure to clean these items first to prevent diseases from affecting seedlings. And add drainage holes to keep plants from becoming waterlogged.

“It’s very easy to make seed-starting pots out of items that were destined for the recycling bin or compost pile (or, worse, the trash!),” wrote gardener Colleen Vanderlinden in an article on Planet Green. She recommends crafting pots out of newspaper, eggshells and toilet paper tubes—all of which can eventually go into the garden with the young plants.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Mother Earth News offers simple instructions for making pots out of toilet paper tubes. Or visit Adriana Martinez’s Anarchy in the Garden blog to watch a clip of her demonstrating her technique. As Martinez points out, “This is a great activity for children too.”

This eHow video highlights one way to create a newspaper pot:

How to Create Seed-Starting Pots from Newspapers

A fun family project during the holiday season is to decorate an outside Christmas tree for the birds. This is a custom dating back to the sixteenth century in northern Europe, where people honored the birds and beasts of the Nativity.

Use a living tree, preferably a conifer, near the house, and viewable through a window, so that the birds can be watched from inside as they enjoy the goodies.

Decorations depend on the creativity of the decorators. My bird Christmas tree is usually decorated with peanuts (in the shell), chunks of suet, popcorn, marshmallows, doughnuts, chunks of fruit, and cranberries. These are threaded on a string with a large needle, and draped on the tree like garland.

Other decorations may include individual items hung from the boughs of the tree like ornaments, such as bird cupcakes made of rendered beef suet, bird seeds, corn meal and peanut butter. Others may be cups of dried fruit, such as raisins and cranberries or nuts. A doughnut or pine cone dipped in rendered suet, and then covered with birdseed, and hung from a red bow, makes an attractive decoration. Red or yellow apples, hung on a bough from their stems by a red bow, form colorful Christmas tree balls.

Expect a variety of birds to come to your holiday feast, including woodpeckers for the suet, finches for the seeds, jays for the nuts, and waxwings and mockingbirds for the berries.

by George H. Harrison
eNature’s Birding expert

Anna’s Hummingbirds visit our sugar water feeder year round here in northern California. However, we usually get only one or two hummers at a time.  The most I’ve observed at the feeder on a cold winter day was four birds.

Learn how Kim Vespa of Tehachapi, California, has created a haven for dozens of hummingbirds, all feeding at the same time, and see her video of the commotion.

Kim describes the video as capturing “a typical August morning” outside of her bedroom window, “the noise at the feeders works as the alarm clock.”

As many FeederWatchers have probably observed, hummingbirds tend to be territorial when it comes to their feeding grounds, but Kim captured an intriguing situation where feeding aggression was calmed by the crowd.

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