If you are as of fond of nuthatches as I am, this is this is the winter for you. It seems this winter many Georgia backyard wildlife fanciers have the opportunity to see the three species of nuthatches known to occur in the state.
Most years the majority of us see only the brown-headed nuthatch. This handsome little bird nests throughout the Peach State.
The white-breasted nuthatch also nests in Georgia; however, its nesting range is much more limited. It is considered uncommon to locally common in those counties situated north of the Fall Line. If your home is situated in the Coastal Plain, you are most likely to see the bird if you live in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the state. However, since some of these birds do move about in winter, a white-breasted nuthatch just might show up at a feeder anywhere.
Although the red-breasted nuthatch does not nest in Georgia, some of these birds appear in Georgia during what biologists refer to as an irruptive year. This is an irruptive year.
The Red-breasted nuthatches that make their way to Georgia are thought to nest principally in the coniferous forests of the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Here the birds feed mostly on the seeds of larch, red spruce, and balsam fir.
These trees are known to produce large crops of seeds in some years and very few in others. When seeds are abundant, more red-breasted nuthatches are able to survive the frigid northern winters than when seeds are difficult to find. Consequently, more nuthatches breed and produce young the following spring.
When this is followed by a crop failure, many red-breasted nuthatches leave their homes and migrate southward looking for something to eat. When this happens, they suddenly appear at feeders across the state.
It is easy to tell the three species from one another.
The brown-headed nuthatch is small ( 4 1/2″). It has a brown crown, white nape spot, under parts, and blue-gray back, and wings. The famous artist and bird expert Roger Tory Peterson described the bird’s call as sounding like a rubber toy—an often-repeated kit, kit, kit.
The white-breasted nuthatch is the largest nuthatch (5 3/4″) your will see in Georgia. It is our only nuthatch that has a white face and under parts as well and a black or gray cap. This bird’s call sounds like a nasal yank, yank, yank.
The red-breasted nuthatch is roughly the same size as the brown-headed nuthatch. It is our only nuthatch that sports a black stripe running across its eye, highlighted with a white line above. This bird’s crown is black and its under parts are cinnamon. Like the other two nuthatches, its wings and back are blue-gray. The red-breasted nuthatch’s call is a distinctive ank, ank, ank. This call is often likened to the sound made by a toy horn.
All you have to do to attract these three very active birds is to provide them with black oil sunflower seeds and suet. These two foods are irresistible to these feisty, feathered dynamos.