White-breasted Nuthatch (12) (1).JPG

A white-breasted nuthatch perches on the side of a tree about to eat a snack.

Practicing my morning ritual of coffee in hand while watching a large variety of birds at our feeders, this week I spotted a solitary visitor moving headfirst down the trunk of a tree. Extensive white head with a narrow dark crown-stripe and a long bill. You guessed it, a white-breasted nuthatch. Their insistent wer-wer-wer-wer chattering will lead you right to them. The Navajo say that nuthatches are a symbol of old age. Now in my 70s, I take that to heart.

Nuthatches are one of my favorites, friendly and acrobatic. How do they so easily walk headfirst down the tree trunk? They have one big toe (hallux) that faces backward, while its other three toes face forward. It’s able to walk headfirst down the tree trunk by moving one foot at a time while the hallux toe on the other foot holds firmly to the bark. They walk headfirst down the tree trunk to find insects that woodpeckers miss on their way up the trunk.

Nuthatches get their name from their habit of jamming nuts and seeds into bark crevices and then whacking them with their bills to “hatch” out the seed. They often forage in a group with chickadees and downy woodpeckers in what is known as a foraging guild. They recognize and rely on the alarm calls of these other species, thereby reducing their level of awareness and focusing more on finding food. I make it a little easier on them by feeding them shelled sunflower chips and suet which they love.

Ken Bunkowski and his son, Matt, are co-owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and look forward to sharing the joy that birds bring into our lives.