Nuthatches my photos, my words

When I look through my collection of nuthatch photos I often need to recalibrate my brain. Many of the photos appear, at first glance, to be upside down.

But the orientation of the photo is correct. That’s the world of the nuthatch. It spends much of its life with its head pointing toward the ground, clinging to tree bark while looking for insects hiding in bark or for food it has hidden in the crevices.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

I have a number of photos showing a nuthatch hanging parallel to a tree with its head pointed down. But my favorite photos are ones showing the bird striking what I refer to as a “nuthatch pose” — facing down with its head and body at a 90-degree angle to the tree trunk — to get a good look at their surroundings.

That's the perfect time to get a photo of a nuthatch.

A White-breasted Nuthatch clings to bark on a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

The nuthatch gets its name from its unusual feeding technique. The birds jam acorns and other large nuts into tree bark, then whack them with their sharp bill. That hatches the seed from inside the nut.

The most common nuthatch in Central Ohio (where I live) is the White-breasted Nuthatch. The bird has gray-blue feathers on the back, a black or gray cap that extends down the neck (making it look like the nuthatch is wearing a hood), a white face and underparts with some chestnut coloring on the lower belly and under the tail.

A White-breasted Nuthatch strikes a typical nuthatch pose on a tree, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

I see White-breasted Nuthatches in this area year round.

Occasionally during the winter I’ll find a Red-breasted Nuthatch when that bird moves south from its summer range in Canada. These bird are a bit smaller than the White-breasted Nuthatch. Red-breasted Nuthatches have blue-gray backs, like their white-breasted cousins, but have heads with strong patterns: a black cap and stripe through the eye broken up by a white stripe over the eye. But the most striking feature is the rich rusty-cinnamon underparts, bright on males and paler on females.

A White-breasted Nuthatch walks on tree bark in Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

During the winter, if you see a nuthatch you will likely see chickadees and titmice. The three types of birds form foraging flocks. Bird experts believe these larger, multi-species flocks make food easier to find. It also provides more birds to watch for predators.

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Created By
Pat Hemlepp


All photos and text © Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved.