Thursday, May 7, 2015

Learning About Red-breasted Nuthatches

I took Buster for a walk at the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve because he likes to check out a couple of old culverts.  He even chased a cat out of one of them once so he always returns with hight hopes.  As I was patiently waiting for him to check out the culverts I was surprised to see small birds flying in and out of one of the snags we had installed with nesting cavities last year.  I soon determined they were Red-breasted Nuthatches. With one of the first photos with a bird in the entrance I noticed it was  carrying out what looked like a fecal sac.  Many species of young birds when first hatched produce their waist in a mucous membrane that allows the parents to remove their waist from the nest.

I took a lot more photos, over 50, but it was hard to catch the bird in flight coming or going to and from the nest.  They are very small birds and fly in and out of the nest so fast it is almost impossible to get a good photo.

I was unsure at this point if I was observing feeding behavior with removal of the fecal sac or if they were in the process of cleaning out the cavity and building a nest.  I moved up close to the nest to see if I could hear or see any baby birds.  I could not, but I noticed the sticky pitch in the entrance.  I remembered that I had read that Red-breasted Nuthatches smear pitch on the entrance hole to perhaps prevent small mammals or other birds from entering.

At this point I realized why it was so hard to get their photo, they fly in and out without touching the rim of the hole in order to avoid the sticky pitch. A second realization came when I got home and read that during the first week the babies do not make any noise.  My conclusion now is yes, we have nesting baby Red-breasted Nuthatches, probably in their first week, that are being fed.  That was a fecal sac I saw. And the parents are a couple of amazing birds to fly in and out of the nesting hole without touching the edges.


  1. Jim, your blogging is so informative. All of us benefit from your observations and research. Lee