Birds – White-breasted Nuthatch

(Sitta carolinensis)

Called also : TREE-MOUSE ; DEVIL DOWNHEAD

Length-5.5 to 6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Upper parts slate-color. Top of head and nape black. Wings dark slate, edged with black, that fades to brown. Tail feathers brownish black, with white bars. Sides of head and underneath white, shading to pale reddish under the tail. (Female’s head leaden.) Body flat and compact. Bill longer than head.

Range—British provinces to Mexico. Eastern United States. Migrations—October. April. Common resident. Most prominent in winter.

” Shrewd little haunter of woods all gray, Whom I meet on my walk of a winter day— You’re busy inspecting each cranny and hole In the ragged bark of yon hickory bole ; You intent on your task, and I on the law Of your wonderful head and gymnastic claw !

The woodpecker well may despair of this feat Only the fly with you can compete ! So much is clear ; but I fain would know How you can so reckless and fearless go, Head upward, head downward, all one to you, Zenith and nadir the same in your view? ”

—Edith M. Thomas.

Could a dozen lines well contain a fuller description or more apt characterization of a bird than these ” To a Nuthatch ” ?

With more artless inquisitiveness than fear, this lively little acrobat stops his hammering or hatcheting at your approach, and stretching himself out from the tree until it would seem he must fall off, he peers down at you, head downward, straight into your upturned opera-glasses. If there is too much snow on the upper side of a branch, watch how he runs along underneath it like a fly, busily tapping the bark, or adroitly breaking the decayed bits with his bill, as he searches for the spider’s eggs, larvae, etc., hidden there; yet somehow, between mouthfuls, managing to call out his cheery quank! quank ! hank ! hank !

Titmice and nuthatches, which have many similar characteristics, are often seen in the most friendly hunting parties on the same tree. A pine woods is their dearest delight. There, as the mercury goes down, their spirits only seem to go up higher. In the spring they have been thought by many to migrate in flocks, whereas they are only retreating with their relations away from the haunts of men to the deep, cool woods, where they nest. With infinite patience the nuthatch excavates a hole in a tree, lining it with feathers and moss, and often depositing as many as ten white eggs (speckled with red and lilac) for a single brood.