Nov 28, 2018 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, December 2018

Birdsquatch's Winter Finch Forecast

Red-breasted nuthatches regularly migrate irruptively, with both the number migrating and the wintering locations varying from year to year. Photo by Cephas / Wikimedia.
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Dear Squatchy:

A red-breasted nuthatch visited my feeder briefly in mid-September but I haven't seen it since. This is a species I occasionally see in winter, but not September! What's up with that?

—Lois H., Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Dear Lois:

Your sighting and question are both timely. Red-breasted nuthatches are residents of the spruce and fir forests of the far North, but in years when the cone crop in those forests is poor these little horn-tooters come south—sometimes in large numbers. This fall is going to be an invasion year for red-breasted nuthatches. I've already seen them in a number of places where they are unusual, like backyards with feeders and small parks with pine trees. While it's typically the most northerly-nesting nutties that move south, this year looks like we'll see lots of them coming through. Some will winter as far south as the southern Gulf states and the desert Southwest.

Often these small woodland birds are heard before they are seen (kind of like my species). Their tooting notes sound like a tiny tin horn and can be heard at a great distance. These calls are how they keep in touch with others of their kind (again this sounds so familiar to me) and imitating the call will often lure a nuthatch in closer for a look.

Because many of them are birds of remote fir forests, they can appear to be quite "tame" when visiting your feeders. I've even had them land on me while I was filling my own bird feeders. This isn't tameness as much as it is naivete. To a red-breasted nuthatch you're just another large, slow-moving creature, like a moose, or a bear, or a sasquatch. They will relish peanut and sunflower bits, and suet crumbles at your bird feeder, though most of their diet undoubtedly comes from the cones of fir and spruce trees. I, on the other hand, will relish a blueberry pie, if you leave one out on your windowsill to cool.



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018