Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nuthatch Display

One of the things I spend a lot of time doing while I'm in my studio is watch the birds. There are probably days when I spend more time doing that than I do actually working, although I like to argue that watching birds is work for a wildlife artist. The argument doesn't usually get me far.

However, last week while I was finishing my newest piece (a tufted titmouse) I was watching a squirrel perform its gymnastics, eating seeds while hanging upside down on a small wire feeder. I have a few feeders on another pole that is squirrel-proof, so I don't mind sharing this one with my little mammal friends. Some days watching the squirrels is more entertaining than the birds.

But on this day, while I watched this squirrel, I noticed, on the tree behind the feeder, something odd transpiring, at least odd to me. A nuthatch had flown up and landed opposite a young downy woodpecker. The nuthatch immediately flared its tail and spread its wings and turned slowly to the right and then back left. Clearly it was trying to intimidate the other bird!

I did not actually have my camera with me the first time I saw this display--I had to run back to the house, up the stairs, find my camera, make sure there was a card in it (common mistake!) and run back out. Then I had to sit and wait for all the players to return. Thankfully they did, and I was able to catch several sequences on film--err, um, I mean on card.
I had never seen this before. Usually life at the feeders is pretty laid back, especially between the different species--there seems to be more strife between birds of a feather, like the goldfinches squabbling over the thistle feeder. This was quite a treat, and just goes to show that a little daydreaming when you're supposed to be working can be a really good thing. You can bet on seeing a new piece from this little drama!


  1. Hi there! I googled "nuthatch trying to intimidate with display", and your blog came up. I just witnessed this very thing out on my deck railing. A nuthatch wanted a turn at the feeder, and was apparently trying to scare a sparrow into leaving. The sparrow thought he was nuts, by the way... But it was exactly as you described, and looked a bit like a mating display. I didn't get it on "card", but I'll be looking out for another opportunity. Very very cool! :0)

  2. Twosleepy: I wish I had a way to get in touch with you but I'll just have to hope you come back to this post. How cool to have seen this too! But even cooler for me that a search led you my blog! It's exciting for me to know that it's getting read by someone. If you ever get pics I'd love to see them. Peace.