Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lady Nuthatch in Repose

This white-breasted nuthatch simply rested atop our suet feeder for some minutes yesterday. I didn't see her eat; she just blinked once in a while. Despite temperatures in the low single digits above zero F., the sun was shining on her and she seemed to be soaking in what she could.

Male white-breasted nuthatch
Male red-breasted nuthatch
I say "she" because the stripe on the top of her head is more gray than black. Compare the bird above to the one at left. See how not only is the cap blacker below, the color of the cap also extends in a "cape" around the shoulders, which it doesn't on the bird above. There are some helpful photos of male and female WBNs on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds site. I hadn't been aware of the difference in the "cape" until today, but I knew there was something different about the bird on the suet feeder compared to the one I'd photographed recently on the peanut feeder..

The large photo shows that WBNs do have some rusty coloring, similar to that of red-breasted nuthatches, on their lower bellies. But white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches are easily distinguished not only by the location of that rusty color (the red-breasted, as its name implies, bearing it high up on the breast) but also by the black stripe that goes right through the eye on the red-breasted nuthatch, which is also the smaller of the two. (See the lower photo at left.) White-breasted nuthatches are year-round residents in much of the United States, whereas the conifer-favoring red-breasted nuthatch tends to be a winter-only visitor to much of the eastern U.S., including southern Minnesota.

I think until recently we have almost always seen the male WBN at our feeders, but last week we briefly saw that there was a pair there and yesterday the female was there on her own, and so I think and hope that she is starting to be more confident in visiting.

1 comment:

RuthieJ said...

Thanks for pointing out the male/female difference Penny. I'll have to look closer at my nuthatch on the next visit too.