“Yank-ank-ank!” The sound caught my attention as I was weeding a raised bed in the garden. I recognized the vocalization immediately. It was not the bold, emphatic call of a White-breasted nuthatch, but softer and more musical to my ear. The description often given for what I was hearing is this: it sounds like the toots of a child’s tin horn. Obviously, this is an old description…when is the last time you saw a tin toy? In fact, the last kid to blow a tin horn is likely an old man by now! Nevertheless, the sounds are unmistakably the call notes of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. I went running for the feeders!
Why the mad dash? The answer is a number…149. You see, while birdwatching is all about apprehending the beauty of these creatures both visually and audibly, I do like to keep count. Birders tend to be compulsive listers and in this technological age, it is easy to do. Go for a walk, or count birds at the feeders, and enter your sightings in eBird. The program knows when and where you are and automatically updates your year list, month list, location list, county list, state list, life list. One of my favorite birding games is besting last year’s total species seen in my county. It is where I do most of my birding and from where I enter the most data. Hitting 150 species for the year in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania is a big deal. While it is a lovely, rural county in the Endless Mountains, it only has a limited variety of habitat. That fact limits the variety of birds present. We are just over halfway through the year and I have positively identified by sight or sound 148 species …until… “Yank-ank-ank!”
While it was the count that sent me running, it was the bird that quickly captured my attention. He was at a feeder selecting a single sunflower seed. He had spring written all over him: his breeding plumage was crisp and bright. My wife and I pulled up lawn chairs to watch. He flew to a nearby tree branch with his single seed, pecked it open with his bill, and consumed the kernel. Over the next fifteen minutes we watched this cycle repeat itself over and over. Then my fellow birder commented softly, “He just cached that last one!” If you are not familiar with the term, nuthatches (and some other species) will hide food found on a good foraging day for use on a day when the hunting does not go so well. Was this guy doubting the benevolence of this seed provider? Did he not know that I dutifully fill this particular feeder every morning with Aspen Song Ultimate Blend, a mix chock full of sunflowers, kernels, peanuts, and tree nuts? Then I remembered that we had just met, and recalled how CRITICAL food is to these warm-blooded, energy dynamos. Welcome, little guy and, please, come again!
As I headed back to resume my gardening, in my mind I was running through the short list of potential species yet to be found. Who will be number 150 for the year?
You can read a short profile of the Red-breasted Nuthatch here.
Learn more about Aspen Song Ultimate Blend here.
Check out the website mentioned at www.ebird.org.