Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published December 3, 2012 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been seen in St. Lucie County

Upside-Down Birds

Black and White Warbler“Those upside-down birds are my favorite.” When a field trip participant made that statement a number of years ago, I had to think for a minute to figure out what he was talking about. Upside-down birds, of course, he’s talking about nuthatches. While most birds that work on tree trunks or branches go up, the nuthatches go down, upside-down. Right, “upside-down birds”. Almost unique among birds species, (the Black-and-White Warbler (left) is the only other upside-down bird that comes to mind, and its upside-down activity is only a some-time thing, unlike the nuthatches which typically travel down a tree trunk,) nuthatches are diminutive hyperactive cavity-nesters that eat seeds and nuts, but I have never seen or heard of them actually trying to hatch a nut.

In North America, there are four species of nuthatches: the most common and widespread White-breasted Nuthatch; the southern breeding Brown-headed Nuthatch; the northern breeding and winter southerly invading Red-breasted Nuthatch; and the western breeding, tiny Pygmy Nuthatch, which looks remarkably like the Brown-headed Nuthatch, but is range separated by almost a thousand miles. Range maps show that none of the nuthatches is likely to be readily or easily found in St Lucie County. However, some range maps do show that occasionally, in an irruptive year like this one, Red-breasted Nuthatches may get this far south in the winter, and the last Florida Breeding Bird Atlas did record one location where a Brown-headed Nuthatch was observed in St Lucie County, but not confirmed as breeding.

White-breasted NuthatchWhite-breasted Nuthatches (right), the most common and widespread nuthatch in most of the eastern United States, only ranges into the pan-handle of Florida, and is very rare farther south in the state. Unusually high numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches are moving south this year and have already been seen in Georgia, and in Florida, south of St Augustine, and as far south as Mount Dora. Everyone with bird feeders should keep an eye out for Red-breasted Nuthatches this year. They, like the Pine Siskins and Purple Finches, love black-oil sunflower seeds and unsalted, shelled peanut splits.

But my personal Don Quixotian quest this winter will be to try to find Brown-headed Nuthatches (below, left) in St Lucie County. With so much appropriate habitat, and the fact that they can be found just north of us in the St Sebastian River Preserve State Park makes me believe they can be found here. So I’m going searching.

Brown-headed NuthatchI vaguely recall someone telling me at a St Lucie Audubon meeting a number of years ago that there were Brown-headed Nuthatches in the pines around the complex where they lived, but I was naïve and inexperienced enough at that time to believe they would be all over the county. Wrong! If you, dear reader, are the person who told me about those birds so many years ago, please, please tell me again.

I might add that this search will make two such quests for me, as I am still searching for my St Lucie County Burrowing Owl. If this keeps up, and I add a bird a year to search for, and continue to be as unsuccessful as I have so far, I may end up like Don Quixote: melancholy in defeat. Or not, for I do have my very own Dulcinea as most of you know. (12/3/2012)

(Click photos for larger versions)