Red-breasted NuthatchSitta canadensis Linnaeus
Status Common resident. Breeds. It is common some years, uncommon to rather rare in others and seldom seen far from coniferous woods at any season. It was common in Kings County during the winters of 1935-36 and 1945-46. It is partial to stands of immature spruce in open woods, where it spends much time working among the cones, extracting the seeds they bear in fruitful years. Large migrations of Red breasted Nuthatches--numbers estimated sometimes in the thousands occurred in 1967, 1969, 1972, 1975 and 1981--frequently pass through the southwestern end of the province in early September, especially on Brier and Seal islands.
Description Length: 11-12 cm. Adult male: Back and wings bluish gray; crown and stripe through eye to hindneck glossy black; conspicuous white line over eye; tail feathers black with white spots near tip; throat and cheek white; rest of underparts bright cinnamon-rufous. Adult female: Similar but colours somewhat subdued.
Breeding Nest: In a hole excavated by the bird in a very rotten stub, at relatively low heights, in open coniferous woods. The cavity is lined with dry grass on which is placed a mat of fur, and the entrance is invariably smeared with sticky balsam. Eggs: 5-7; white, speckled with cinnamon, light brown and lavender. Excavating sometimes begins in early April, but several weeks may elapse after completion of these early nests before eggs are laid. On 10 April 1945 at White Rock, Kings County, one was seen excavating about 4 m up in a rotten stub in open evergreen woods. When the nest was visited 10 days later, the birds were not in evidence and the nest appeared to be deserted. On 20 May, a month later, it was visited again and both birds were seen carrying food to the young. On 4 May 1913 on Wolfville Ridge, two nests were being excavated; on 24 May they each contained sets of five fresh eggs. A nest at Starrs Point, Kings County, 4.5 m up in a spruce stub, contained seven fresh eggs on 24 May 1929; the nest was typical, the mat of fur in this instance from a red squirrel.
Range Breeds from southeastern Alaska, southern Yukon, southeastern Mackenzie Valley, central Quebec, and Newfoundland, south to North Carolina, northern Michigan and southern California. Occurs irregularly further south in winter.
Remarks When seen in fall and winter it is usually hobnobbing with chickadees and kinglets, all foraging in loose association through the evergreens, each member incessantly giving its call, a practice followed, presumably, to enable strays and laggards to keep in touch with the roving band.
Many writers have referred to this bird's strange custom of plastering the entrance to its nest with sticky balsam, but few have attempted to explain why it is done. There is no doubt that the bird transports the stuff in its slender bill; frequently I have been within a metre of one at nesting time and noted that the feathers nearest its bill were dark and gummed up.
Its call, ank-ank-ank, is similar to that of the slightly larger White-breasted Nuthatch, but higher pitched and more nasal. Its song, seldom heard except at nesting time, is a rapidly repeated series of pleasing half-musical notes.
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