Thursday, July 9, 2015

Brown-headed Nuthatch

On 21 March we searched for Brown-headed Nuthatches and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers near Covington, Louisiana. The night before we hooked up with our Northfield friends, John and Kathy Holden. We headed out to nearby Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, knowing from fellow birders in Baton Rouge that the refuge harbors both birds.

Brown-headed Nuthatches are found only in southeastern pine forests, where the species is common. Kathy and Erika were happy to escape their slow-walking husbands and power-walked down the Boy Scout Trail, which led through Long-leaf Pine—perfect habitat for our target species. These nuthatchs' preference for mature forests make this an indicator species for the health of the forests they inhabit (Slater et al. 2013).

John and I were  almost immediately greeted by a large flock of nuthatches. The only problem for me, the photographer, was that the birds scolded us from high in the trees and did not come close to check us out. Later we found the bird in this photograph. It stuck around low in a lone pine in a nearby marsh. I suspect it had a nearby nest. The species is known to nest lower in the trees than in the canopy where it forages.

Brown-headed Nuthatches are remarkable because of their using tools and cooperatively breeding. They often use pine bark chips to pry off other pieces of bark. Up to a third of breeding pairs enjoy helpers at their nests. These helpers are generally related to the breeding pair and “assist with territorial defense, nest construction (excavating and nest-building), nest sanitation, and feeding of nestlings, fledglings, and the female at the nest” (Slater et al. 2013).

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