[CT Birds] Red-breasted Nuthatches (tri-state area)

Robert DeCandido PhD rdcny at earthlink.net
Wed Sep 7 06:24:40 EDT 2016

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been seen in large numbers recently 
after originally (first!) being reported at several locations in the 
tri-state area: in Connecticut (Stamford) on 26 June by Brenda 
Inskeep; in northwest Connecticut by Fred Baumgarten about 20 June 
(Fred - do you have an exact date?); at the "Point" (Stratford?) on 
or about 26 June by Patrick Comins; at the New York Botanical Garden 
(2) in the Bronx (NYC) on 25 June (Deborah Allen and Robert 
DeCandido); in Central Park on 26 June (Jeffrey M. Ward with DA and 
RDC) and on Staten Island on 3 July (H. Fischer). The first report in 
New Jersey was on 27 June at Lord Stirling Park, Basking Ridge (bejoba at ...)

Migrant Red-breasted Nuthatches are most often found in conifers, but 
I tracked down five in the same area within a group of deciduous 
trees in Central Park on Labor Day. In years past, an early date of 
arrival is on or about 15 July. In exceptionally "early" years, 
individuals arrive by late June. These early arrival years are 
indicative of an "irruption" meaning lots more are on the way. In 
some years, other seed eating birds such as Purple Finches, Pine 
Siskins, Crossbills and other species also head south to the 
tri-state area and beyond, in large number - autumn 2007 was a good 
year for multiple species with Red-breasted Nuthatches leading the 
way. So the little Red-breasted Nutchases are an augur of what else 
might come south.

I cannot find any historical notes on Red-breasted Nuthatches in 
Connecticut, so one from the Washington DC area, with a brief mention 
of Stamford, will have to suffice:

From: The Auk 10: 87 (1893)

Sitta canadensis appearing in Numbers in the District of Columbia.

Last autumn the writer collected birds quite extensively at Takoma, 
D.C., and vicinity, especially in the southern part of Montgomery 
County, Maryland.  During all that time and the following winter not 
a single specimen of the Red-breasted Nuthatch (S. canadensis) was 
observed, and there is every reason to believe that they were not at 
all represented among the fall migrants of that season (1891 - 1892). 
This autumn, however, (1892) the case is entirely different, for in 
the same localities the bird came early, and in most unusual numbers. 
They have appeared in loose flocks, associated with the usual autumn 
small birds, as Juncos, Titmice, Wrens, etc., and upon several 
occasions one could count as many as thirty or forty of them from a 
single point of observation. There would be no trouble in collecting 
as many as fifty specimens in a day.  Many birds of the year are 
among them, as is indicated by their duller plumage and less decided 
markings. A number of years ago I remember this species appearing 
thus suddenly one autumn in the neighborhood of Stamford, 
Connecticut, a place where the writer collected birds for a long time 
early in the sixties and where the species had not been noticed for 
many seasons.--R. W. SHUFELDT, Takoma, D. C.
Finally, for those interested in censusing for Red-breasted 
Nuthatches in their home patch or wherever - since these birds can 
turn up anywhere including backyards, try this: in the Sibley 
electronic guide for birds on your I-phone/I-touch, play the first 
call provided for this species (called the Toots #1_NY). Put it on a 
loop on your hand-held device and let it play for about 2 
minutes...then switch to the call named: More Calls #1_NY 
(Red-breasted Nuthatch). Play that for about two minutes (put on a 
loop so the call keeps playing continuously for the two minutes). 
Having a small blue-tooth speaker will aid your field research.

In my experience, these birds are very social and if any are in the 
area, they will come in and work their way down the tree trunk to 
very near the sound...it is possible to get many more coming in 
simultaneously - I have gotten as many as five at a time recently. 
They will fly back and forth overhead...usually landing nearby to 
give their "yank-yank" call in return. They look happy hearing calls 
from their compatriots (on the "tape"), but why I believe this is a 
discussion for another day in a different forum. Even in Washington 
state where Deborah and I visited a few weeks ago, it was possible to 
bring for a close look (all the way down from the top of 150-200 foot 
tall conifers) at families of these birds. Indeed if we did not use 
the calls from an electronic device we would not have known the birds 
were in the area.

Now before anyone gets bonkers about what I am writing regarding 
playing calls to census for birds, please be advised that (a) you are 
doing this to learn about birds, their numbers and distribution = you 
have scientific intent; (b) the birds will respond for 1-2 minutes 
then go back to doing what they were doing = you have not permanently 
(or even temporarily) damaged them...you have simply changed their 
behavior for a brief amount of time...and you may even see them 
feeding near you too; (c) this has nothing to do with being ethical 
or not-ethical and you are not a bad/good person for interacting with 
birds in this way; and finally (d) if you have children or other bird 
watchers with you, they will be amazed and their enjoyment 
(appreciation) of these birds will increase greatly particularly if 
they (the nuthatches) fly back and forth in front of your nose and 
attempt to land on your head (yes this happens).

So, if you are inclined, go out in your backyard and census for 
Red-breasted Nuthatches...and bring your camera and a 300mm lens. If 
not, or you hate what I wrote, don't...try pishing instead. But pray 
tell, what's the difference between electronic calls and pishing? 
These are both valid ways of locating birds.

Robert DeCandido PhD
6/26/16, 0630 - this morning there was a Red-breasted Nuthatch loudly 
vocalizing and seen well at the corner of Shippan and the drive to 
West Beach in the spruce grove on that corner.  It is my 3rd sighting 
of RB Nuthatch in southern areas this month.  Brenda Inskeep in Stamford

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