Nuthatches are believed to migrate only when there is a shortage of food in their home territories. This shortage drives them further south in the fall in search of food and is known as irruptive migration. It happens periodically and this is obviously one of those years.
I live in east Tennessee, and while we have white-breasted nuthatches as year-round residents, we only see their red-breasted cousins during an irruption year. About two weeks ago (October 14th), my yard experienced an influx of nuthatches, both white-breasted and red-breasted calling incessantly. It was spectacular--wrap-around nuthatch sounds everywhere. And there was no doubt that more than one species was present.
At only 4.5", over an inch smaller than their white-breasted cousins, red-breasted nuthatches seem tiny by comparison. But, wow, what bold little personalities. I was stunned to see how unconcerned they seemed while landing on the feeder when I happened to be only a couple of feet away. They aren't blind. And I'm not invisible. I didn't move, but I did laugh and talk to them and it didn't matter one iota. They stayed and went about picking out the perfect seed, despite my presence, then took off to either "hatch" their nut or bury it in the bark.
I noticed that red-breasted boldness with birds, as well. Measuring .25 inches smaller than a Carolina chickadee, they fanned their wings and tails to exaggerate their size and vocalized to lay claim to the feeder. Even the highly vocal and irreverent titmice heeded their warnings.
Endearing, lively, bold, and acrobatic, these little guys are a joyful addition to my feeders and I'm hoping they hang around all winter!
Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John
The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves
Me and Denali
Photo courtesy of Bob King
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