Outdoors

Keep an eye out for nuthatches around your feeders

Birdwatching: White-breasted species more common in Eastern Iowa

A white-breasted nuthatch visits a peanut feeder at George Wyth State Park in Black Hawk County. (Brandon Caswell/correspondent)
A white-breasted nuthatch visits a peanut feeder at George Wyth State Park in Black Hawk County. (Brandon Caswell/correspondent)
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Nuthatches are small, lovable birds that visit bird feeders at all times of the year.

Known for the way they are able to walk down trunks and branches head first, this unique locomotion makes them well adapted to life in the trees.

Of the four species of nuthatch in the United States, Iowa has two. Our most common and well known is the white-breasted nuthatch. Rather non-melodious, this species has a quick and repetitive whine-like call. Look for a sparrow-sized bird with a white face, neck, breast and belly. A dark stripe adorns the head and back of the neck. This nuthatch is orange around the vent and undertail.

Our other species of nuthatch is the less common red-breasted nuthatch. It occurs from late September through April and often visits feeders. Every few years this species will irrupt (or invade) into Iowa and other parts of the country. It is thought their food supplies run short in a cyclical period of time. This forces them to temporarily migrate south in order to survive.

Irruptions are not unique to this species, but also commonly occurring in finches and northerly owl species, like snowy owl. Recent genetic research supports an irrupting finch species, which wandered from Asia to the Hawaiian Islands, was the sole representative responsible for the proliferation of different honeycreeper species on that island chain.

Red-breasted nuthatch is smaller than white-breasted, with a higher pitched, more nasally whine-like call. The body is bluish above and atop the head with an orange-red underside. The face is white with a distinct black line from the bill to the back of the head, which runs through the eye.

In my own observations this fall, I have often encountered more red-breasted than white-breasted nuthatch in a given area. Other birders from around the state have observed a similar trend. This begs the question: How many Red-breasted Nuthatch have irrupted into Iowa this fall and winter?

Hopefully they are able to thrive in Eastern Iowa before eventually returning north.

PHOTOGRAPHY ADVICE:

There are two main elements to any photograph — the subject and the background. Often it is tricky enough just to get a bird in nice focus and lighting, yet alone worry about what is behind it. The fall offers a time when the brilliance and variety of tree colors, such as orange, red and yellow, can add beauty to the background of a bird subject. Waterfowl on a pond or lake can appear as if they are floating on gold if the background happens to have some trees turning yellow. Other backdrops, such as fall grasses or prairie fields, also can add a really nice touch to the background of any photo.

ADDITIONAL SPECIES

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— Look for purple finch, pine siskin and American goldfinch at your feeders. Nyjer seed a finch favorite.

— Hawks will set up winter territories in Iowa. Red-tailed hawk numbers should increase. Rough-legged hawks also will winter in Iowa. The colder months offer great opportunities to photograph, study and appreciate raptor diversity.

— Duck diversity will increase in November. Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids and along the river offer great places to look for many species, whether they are puddle or diving ducks. Hawkeye Wildlife Management area also is a good place. Keep in mind duck hunting season is upon us.

BIRDING CALENDAR

— Nov 10, 8:15 a.m. — Trip to Port Louisa NWR for migration bus tour. Target birds are ducks and geese during peak migration at the refuge. Bus tour is led by refuge staff and will make one stop at the Fox Pond Observation Deck. Join our carpool to the refuge and return about 1:15. Reservation is required with limited spots available for our club. Email Field Trip Coordinator at quinnhenry@msn.com.

— Nov 15, 7 p.m. — Meeting. Jim Scheib will present “Birding SE Arizona.”

l Brandon Caswell has undergraduate degrees in biology, anthropology and geology. His graduate degree centered on dating continental collisions within the Precambrian Canada Shield. Bird-watching and nature photography are among his favorite hobbies. He resides with his wife and son in Cedar Rapids. Email brandon.caswell83@gmail.com with birding-related questions, including questions about activities.

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