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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  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021