In late March of this year, 2011, I was in south-central NC visiting my parents. A neighbor of theirs has a Homes for Bluebirds (made in Bailey, NC, started by the famous bluebirder, the late Jack Finch) box in their back yard and has had wonderful success with bluebirds using the box with careful monitoring and photographing the bluebirds using it year after year. I asked if they wanted me to stop by and take a look at the box. It was discovered an unusual bird not seen before had been making visits to the nestbox in competition with bluebirds in nest building, dropping their pieces of pine bark and other items over the bluebird’s pine needles. While we were standing next to this box, this bird showed up as if we were not even there. At the time, I had not been able to ID this bird and I needed to find out! It turned out to be the Brown-head Nuthatch. This cavity-nesting species is presently on the Audubon Watch List. This bird nests in the pine forests of the Southeastern states, particularly pines of the
loblolly, shortleaf, and longleaf varieties of pines. Continued destruction of these pine forests is taking habitat away from this cavity-nester; therefore, their numbers are declining.
Text below per Audubon Source Online: http://audubon2.org/watchlist/viewSpecies.jsp?id=41
“The bird requires snags (standing dead trees) for nesting and roosting; but forages on live pines. It is more abundant in older pine stands compared with younger stands as well as burned stands. Nesting includes excavating cavities in trees, most commonly between February and April. Incubation lasts two weeks. Young fledge 18 to 19 days. The bird subsists on bark-dwelling cockroaches, beetles, and spiders in the warmer
months and various arthropods and pine seeds when it’s colder. This non-migratory species generally does not
disperse far from its breeding range; although widespread decline in pine seed crops one season may force birds to extend their range. One of few species of passerines known to use tools; the nuthatch finds loose bark flakes to pry attached flakes where insects are hiding. The biggest problem this pine-forest specialist encounters today is the destruction of southeastern pine forests. Commercial logging as well as private and public land management practices has reduced its breeding and foraging habitat. After clear-cutting, a forest needs at least 12 to 25 years of regeneration before it can become suitable for Brown-headed Nuthatches to nest. Clear-cutting as well as fire suppression reduces the number of snags available as nesting sites. Since this bird makes limited movements away from its breeding grounds, forest fragmentation is also harmful. Birds aren’t re-colonizing where suitable habitat has once again become available.”
As a bluebirder monitor and manager of my own trail as well as a mentor to others in monitoring nestboxes and having a love for all our native birds, I find it appropriate to welcome and allow this wonderful little bird to have its one brood in our bluebirds’ boxes and let the bluebirds move in, too, to raise families, as I’ve seen on my own trail with the Carolina Chickadee (CACH). It is illegal to evict native birds from our nestboxes, per federal law (Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918). We can try to deter other birds to use our boxes other than our beloved Eastern Bluebird, but why? Though we help the bluebirds find a place to nest and raise a family, the bluebird numbers have increased in the past decade, thanks to us for installing nestboxes and monitoring them for best success. However, it is prudent as a birder to help other native birds raise families, as well, particularly those
species also losing habitat. The recent Summer 2011 issue of the Virginia Bluebird Society’s newsletter, The Bird Box, has an article written by one of our County Coordinators about how she helped the Brown-headed Nuthatch (BHNU) raise her one brood in her backyard box and watched their 7 babies fledge, and then bluebirds moved in after. It’s very interesting her efforts to help
both species succeed. One has to admit it’s fascinating to see different native birds use our boxes! I know I enjoy other species using my boxes on my own trail. It adds to the learning experience about all of our nesting species, many raised so close to home where we live.
The following series of photos below are by Bill Matthews taken at his backyard Homes for Bluebirds nestbox of both the bluebird couple and the female nuthatch during the competition to use the box. I think you’ll really enjoy these outstanding photos! Many thanks to Bill for sharing these with me. After some back and forth of both species attempting to nest in this box for first brood, the bluebirds won over the nestbox. It is assumed this nuthatch couple moved elsewhere. I can only hope this female found another suitable place to nest—perhaps another nestbox in the neighborhood or in an old woodpecker hole in the pine woods nearby the property. As we continue to prosper, if that’s the right word, and create new homes for ourselves, the human, our
beautiful pine forests in the Southeastern United States are being destroyed.
In addition, I would like to share the following links in an easy pop-out for interesting reading online about this nuthatch and also about the late Jack Finch (1917-2006), who designed the Homes for Bluebirds in North Carolina.
Homes for Bluebirds: http://www.danfinch.com/birds.htm
Tribute to Jack Finch, Homes
for Bluebirds, on Sialis.org (A MUST READ!): http://www.sialis.org/jack_finch.htm
Virginia Bluebird Society
Summer 2011 Issue, See Page 4:
This is the story of how one of the VBS’ County
Coordinators assisted the Brown-headed Nuthatch (BHNU) raise her one brood in
her own backyard nestbox by creating a temporary “retrofit” to the box so that
the nuthatch could nest first and then changed it for the bluebirds for their
broods after the nuthatch fledged babies (Adobe Acrobat Reader needed). You really should read the whole newsletter
and see what VBS is up to! http://www.virginiabluebirds.org/newsletters/birdboxsummer2011.pdf
Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds– Brown-headed Nuthatch: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown-headed_Nuthatch/id