One of our favourite birds in K-Country is the Red Breasted Nuthatch, sitta canadensis. As subjects of photography, they’re a pain. Like a few birds, they do not hold still for so much as a second. Even though you see them all the time, it can take years to get good photos of them.
Their home is a cavity in a tree. Typically, it’s in an old woodpecker hole, like the one in the photo to the right, but they also make their own nests in rotten trees. They rim the entrance of their nest hole with conifer resin, protecting the nest from insects and such. They lay 5-6 eggs, which hatch in about 12 days, and the babies fledge ~20 days later.
Nuthatches are non-migratory, though they have been known to move north and south through their range. Accordingly, you can see them all year round, walking headfirst down tree trunks. Their favourite trees are White Spruce, Lodgepole Pines and Douglas Firs, which make up about 90% of the trees in K-Country. That “head first” thing is all about gaining seeds and insects out of tree bark that are missed by woodpeckers and Brown Creepers who move up a tree head first.
Their call is a distinctive “yank-yank-yank” that sounds like an overly fast and too quiet car alarm. You often hear nuthatches before you ever see them; sometimes you only ever hear them, as the tiny birds invisibly flit around up high.
Nuthatches are often gregarious, and hang out with chickadees all year ’round, and other forest birds like warblers and redpolls in the summer. They rarely sit still, though, and spend much more time on the tree trunks than on the limbs. They’re easy to get to visit your bird feeder. They are “peanut pigs”, and will root through your seeds if they know there are peanuts. Just don’t expect them to sit still for you; they zip in, grab a seed, and zip out, typically heading to a nearby tree to stash it in the bark.
Their cousins the White-Breasted Nuthatches are much less frequently seen in K-Country. Whites are slightly larger, and are white on the chest instead of red, and prefer leafy trees. They are, however, just as hard to get pictures of!
Meet some of the other fascinating Critters of Kananaskis Country here!