An unmistakable call in the woods!

by Dave Hanks

If hiking in the woods and you hear: “yank – yank – yank”, you’ve just heard the unmistakable call of a nuthatch. The species that our south hills supports is the RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH. Nuthatches are small birds that like to move along a tree trunk or branch upside-down. Their slender, sharply pointed beak is ideal for picking insects out of bark crevices. They will start out high, and work their way down to the base, and then fly to another tree. Large toes and nails (for their size) allow them to grip and cling to trunks and branches.

The Red-Breasted is 4 ½” long, with a red throat, chest, and belly; a bluish back, a black crown and a black eye stripe upon a white face. The tail is very short – a necessity when clinging to a tree trunk.

Fir or spruce forests are Red-Breasted Nuthatch habitats. They are cavity nesters. This aggressive little bird will chase away other bird species that get close to their nest hole. The male will collect conifer resin, in his bill, and line the edges of the nest cavity entrance. The stickiness tends to discourage would be predators or competitors. Because they must use previously made nest holes, they will utilize bird houses placed in the appropriate habitat.

As one of the earliest migratory species, they will move south as early as July.

One time, my wife and I scurried the south hills in hopes of finding some at close range. On that day, we weren’t successful until we returned home to find them in our yard, “yank – yanking” away in our spruce trees.

(A watering spot is the best place to get a close-up view)