Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Two Records in an Hour Are Added to Longtime Birdwatcher's Yard List

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Two Records in an Hour Are Added to Longtime Birdwatcher's Yard List

Article excerpt

After more than 40 years of backyard bird watching, our yard posted two records within an hour. How awesome is that? After a three-year absence, a red-breasted nuthatch made his return to the yard. This time, though, he brought a friend - the first time we've had two together.

One reference describes them as "intense bundles of energy at your feeder."

They pick out sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts and safflower seeds. And they'll go for suet, peanut butter and peanuts. They find coniferous trees attractive, so if your yard has its share of pine, hemlock, fir or spruce, you'll increase your chances of hosting them.

In many respects, they resemble their cousins, our year-round white-breasted nuthatches. But the red-breasted guys, distinguished most easily by their cute little black masks, are among our smallest birds. Their reddish underparts help differentiate males from females, the males usually brighter. Noticeably shorter and only half the weight of white-breasted, red-breasted nuthatches yammer away, sounding like little toy tin horns, "yank-yank-yank," but their calls are more brief and more nasal than white-breasted.

Why has the yard been empty of red-breasted nuthatches for three years? The short answer: food. When food shortages in Canada's boreal forest leave them hungry, red-breasteds show up here, the short-distance movements occurring only every few years. Because they're irregular, the movements are called "irruptions," not migrations.

Forecasters who study this sort of avian movement predict that this winter will likely bring significant irruptions of many species. Already we've seen record-breaking swarms of pine siskins moving through.

But wait. Doesn't the cold send birds south? Not really. Again, it's all about food. For instance, one year in late May in Alaska, with spotty snowdrifts still lingering, we photographed a pair of red-breasted nuthatches feeding already-fledged young. …

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