Nesting perils – or not?

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A5128© Maria de Bruyn resLast year, I had the good fortune to come upon a snag (a dead standing tree) near the shore of Jordan Lake in which brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) were tending a nest. This year, thinking back to those delightful visits, I decided to go investigate the tree again. My first visit revealed no nuthatches in the vicinity, but a second visit a few days later on 15 March revealed they had a nest in the same place again. As these birds may keep mates for several years, I just assumed it was the same pair as in 2014, so it was like seeing old friends!

 

 

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A0438© Maria de Bruyn brown-headed nuthatch DK7A0467© Maria de Bruyn

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A9987©Maria de BruynOn 29 March, it looked like the birds were bringing food to the nest. One might also have had a piece of bark in its mouth; these nuthatches may use bark pieces as tools to help dig for insects. If the female had by chance laid her eggs around 15 March, the eggs would have just been hatching now. Usually, it then takes 18-19 days for the babies to fledge, so they could have been ready to fly around 15 April, but the egg-laying and hatching could have been earlier.

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A9990©Maria de Bruyn resbrown-headed nuthatch DK7A9994©Maria de Bruyn res

On 4 April, the birds were still bringing food to the nest.

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A4943© Maria de Bruynbrown-headed nuthatch DK7A5264© Maria de Bruyn

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A4649© Maria de Bruyn res

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A5331© Maria de Bruyn resI was photographing the birds and wondering which one might be the male and which the female. Suddenly, I was surprised to see three birds, all about the same size.

Reading up on the species taught me that not only the mating pair but also other individuals, usually young males, help attend the nests. Scientists don’t yet know whether these helpers are older offspring, but it seems to me that it might be similar to the older son helpmates among the American crows.

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A5353© Maria de Bruyn resbrown-headed nuthatch DK7A5351© Maria de Bruyn res

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A5366© Maria de Bruyn res brown-headed nuthatch DK7A5364© Maria de Bruyn res

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A8333© Maria de BruynOn the other hand, perhaps the rather fuzzy bird was a baby, which lacks the white neck spot seen in the adults. The babies also tend to have more gray and less brown coloring than adults. On 12 April, I didn’t see any nuthatches, but on 27 April, I saw a bird peeping out of the nest, well past the fledging period I think.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, since 1966, the population of brown-headed nuthatches has declined by 45% because they are losing nesting habitats (dead and pine trees) to deforestation and urbanization. Apparently, they also lose nests to predation.

brown-headed nuthatch 2 DK7A5128© Maria de Bruynbrown-headed nuthatch DK7A9709© Maria de Bruyn res

brown-headed nuthatch DK7A9827© Maria de Bruyn resOn 9 May, when I returned to Jordan Lake to see if nuthatches were still around the nest, I found their home tree decapitated, precisely at the spot where the hole had been for their nest. I imagine that a raccoon might have gotten up there, although I suppose some other predator could have wreaked havoc as well. In any event, it means I won’t be able to count on visiting the nuthatches there next spring.

The mysteries of the third bird’s identity and what took down the nest will likely remain unknowns. But at least I have my photos of the lovely little birds’ last nest at that site!

3 thoughts on “Nesting perils – or not?

  1. Pingback: Avian generations in the making – part 2B: nesting in nature | My beautiful world

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