At the same snow covered tree log where someone had placed sunflower seeds where yesterday’s Pine Siskin was having a snack a White-breasted Nuthatch swooped in for a quick bite as well. While the Pine Siskin took its sweet time staying put while it ate, the nuthatch had a markedly different strategy. As soon as the Pine Siskin had left the Nuthatch swooped in. It eyed the seeds, picked up one that had been hulled and took off. While the Pine Siskin was more of a sit and dine sort of bird the nuthatch was more of dash and grab type.
A small song bird was hopping around among the barren branches against a the canvass of a dark blue sky. My first thoughts went to a Black-capped Chickadee but it only took a quick glance to identify it as another common winter bird in these neck of the woods. A White-breasted Nuthatch. It was an energetic little fella that clearly was on a mission to find a morsel to eat. In the end I managed to capture a picture of it peaking out behind a tree trunk.
The White-breasted Nuthatch was too busy looking for something to eat to notice me. Although these birds are common in the Whitemud Ravine they can be tricky to photograph as they always seem to be on the move and rarely sit still for any amount of time. As I quickly and quietly drew my camera and focused in on the nuthatch it suddenly stopped and looked up at me. I thought that it all was lost and that it would just take off. Well, it did, but it took several seconds during which he was staring at me and this was just enough to allow me to get a picture of it. I managed to capture it in the iconic upside down nuthatch pose. Nuthatches ability of climbing down a tree upside down is a very unique ability among birds and I cannot think of any other species of bird that makes its living by finding food on tree trunks, e.g. woodpeckers, that does it upside down.
So my prediction in yesterday’s post Where to bird in -30 °C? was correct. Offer food and the birds will come. Every winter the city sets up a large number of bird feeders in Hermitage Park and keeps them filled with an assortment of bird treats throughout the winter. The birds are well aware of this and the feeders are always busy. It was a beautiful sunny day today with the temperature hovering around -30 °C this morning. We arrived at the bird feeders around 10:30 am. There were no other people around, quite likely due to the bitter cold, but there was lots of avian action at the feeders. As the feeders are all clustered in a treed groove right off the parking lot we just pulled up the vehicle as close as possible and ended up doing some car birding. I am usually not a big fan of birding from the car, it seems like an oxymoron – you go birding to enjoy nature, yet you never leave the confines of the car. With the bone crushing cold, however, if seemed like a reasonable compromise. All in all we ended up seeing 8 species of birds, all of which were busy gorging themselves on sunflower seeds, nuts and suet.
Edmonton--Hermitage Park Bird Feeders, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Jan 18, 2020 10:45 AM - 11:00 AM
Checklist Comments: A sunny and clear but bitterly cold morning (-30C). No people around but lots of avian activity at the feeders.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 4
Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 1
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) 3
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 20
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) 3
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 5
White-breasted Nuthatches and their close cousins, the Red-breasted Nuthatch are common songbirds down in the Whitemud Ravine year round. Next to the Black-capped Chickadees they are probably the most common birds one encounters. I have, however, had some difficulties getting good pictures of them as they never seem to sit still. They are always moving around on a tree trunk, moving up and down and around the tree. After many trials and failures trying to photograph them only to get blurry grey patches I finally got my break last weekend. This one White-breasted Nuthatch was was approaching us, flying from tree trunk to tree trunk, slowly inching his way closer to us. Yes, I do believe it was a male as females have a grey cap. Although it was still moving around a lot it gave me lots of opportunities to photograph it. It soon became apparent what piqued its interest. There was a pile of sunflower seeds on a log right by the trail where we were standing. It was the least shy and went all to way up to the sunflowers at arms length grabbing a seed before it took off into the forest.
Nuthatches are common at the Whitemud Ravine but tricky to take pictures of as they never seem to sit still. I managed to snap this on single picture of a White-breasted Nuthatch sitting on a log for a second before it quickly moved on. Nuthatches forage on insects climbing around on trunks and branches and are unique as they often move head-first down trees and can even hang upside-down beneath twigs and branches. They have a quite distinctive call so it is easy to pick them out in the forest, it’s another thing to actually spot them though. The White-breasted Nuthatch is the larger of the two nuthatches we have in Alberta, the other one being the Red-breasted Nuthatch.