Bird Lady Blog

October 8, 2009

Acorn Woodpecker, Stellar’s Jay, and Nuthatches

Filed under: Acorn Woodpecker Steller's Jay Nuthatches,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 3:29 am

Acorn WoodpeckerIn the last blog, I wrote about four common birds (Lesser Goldfinch, American Robin, Western Bluebird, and Mountain Chickadee) that you will find around your home in Munds Park.  This article covers four others:  “the clown face,” “the big, noisy blue one”, and two species of delightful-to-watch nuthatches.

 All of you have probably seen our most familiar woodpecker, the Acorn Woodpecker, with its bright red cap and a face that has a distinct white eye ring and black-white pattern, all making it look like a “clown face”.  This bird’s back is mostly black, but when it flies from tree to tree or across your street, you can see the white under parts of its wings and belly.  Acorn Woodpeckers live in year-round social units and depend on these family-type groups to build up and defend their stored supplies of acorns and insects.  Stored acorns in individual drilled holes constitute a granary, and a large tree can have several thousands of acorn holes.  Stored food is critical to keeping Acorn Woodpeckers alive during the long winter.  This comical looking bird is rumored to be the inspiration for Woody the Woodpecker, in part because it was the common woodpecker near the northern California cabin of Walter Lantz, Woody’s creator.  However, the Acorn Woodpecker does not have a crest, as does Woody, so I think the Pileated Woodpecker is the better candidate for our cartoon friend Woody.

 I remember seeing my first-ever Stellar’s Jay at the rest stop that is one mile north of the Munds Park 322 exit. The rest stop is closed now, and this first sighting was long before we had our home here, but the “wow” memory of seeing this regal-looking, crested blue jay reminds me that you never know just when you’ll see a “lifer”. The Stellar’s Jay is the only crested jay west of the Rockies.  Those of you from the Midwest and East probably know its crested relative, the Blue Jay, with its mixed coloring of blue, black and white.  Our Stellar’s Jays are darker because their head and chest are mostly gray black, and their bottom half is a deep blue.  Most noticeable is their large crest, and that gives them a “don’t mess with me” look.  The Stellar’s Jay got its name from the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Stellar, who discovered them in 1781 on an expedition landing in Alaska.  When you spot a Stellar’s Jay in your binoculars, look for a small white “eyebrow” on its face.  You can attract them with peanuts.

 We have two types of nuthatches in Munds Park, and both have their own personalities and habits.  The larger of the two is the White Breasted Nuthatch, which has, like its name, a completely white breast.  It has a blue-black back, dark hood and almost no neck.  You will usually see this bird alone or with its mate, or you will first hear its nasal yammering.  The White-Breasted Nuthatch climbs up, down, and sideways on trees searching for insects or placing nuts into tree trunk crevices that it will use a food later in the year.  It does not use its tail as a prop against the tree as woodpeckers do, but it does wedge insects and nuts into cracks in trees for storing.  Although these birds typically stay in the same territory year-round, when I’m golfing in central Phoenix during the winter, I will occasionally hear the call of a White-Breasted Nuthatch.  Maybe like the Munds Park year-round human residents, it grows tired of the cold winds and snow and needs a winter vacation.  This bird nests in tree cavities and nest boxes, and its average estimated life span is about two years, but the oldest known White-Breasted Nuthatch was nine years and 10 months of age.

 Pygmy Nuthatches are seen in flocks of several or more.  They are busy little birds, scrambling on twigs and pine cones or climbing head-first down tree trunks in search of the next meal.  At four inches long, they are considerably smaller than their relative, the White-Breasted Nuthatch, which is about five and a half inches long.  Pygmy Nuthatches have a slate gray back and a buffy white belly.  Their vocalization is described as a “piping”, usually a two syllable call repeated over and over.  When they come to your feeder for sunflower seeds, they will arrive one after another, flying back and forth, often storing the seeds into crevices in the bark of trees.  These little birds are very gregarious.  Nesting pairs may have helpers, and during the winter they will huddle together in a cavity roost, sometimes as many as 100 of them together.  The first time I saw a group of Pygmy Nuthatches was at Lake Odell.  A flock of them was scouring the ground covering and fallen pine cones for insects, flitting up and down between the earth and trees.  And of course, there were a lot of them, which made it especially fun to see.

 I’m still deciding about what birds I will write about next, but I do have a question for you.  What do you think is the least expensive way to attract birds to your deck or property?  Watch for the answer (at least the answer in my opinion) in the next article.



  1. Two comments for you in one post:

    Y’ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen a dozen crows “riding the ferris wheel” of an uphill draft. Fascinating! They would lift off into the wind from a upper, overhanging branch and soar out over the fields below. They would circle around and come up on the “ferris wheel” tree’s lower branch. They’d then hop from branch to upper branches until they were once again in position to launch.

    I must have watched for an hour or more. It was one of the most joyful-seeming bird activities I have ever observed.

    Comment by bdouglas — March 10, 2011 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

  2. Ooops, here’s the second comment:

    Cheapest way to attract birds to one’s deck: A shallow dish/tray of water. I use a large terra cotta dish that would ordinarily be under a large planter pot. “Lefty” (a very friendly scrub jay) will nag me, while following me around my herb terrace, until I fill the dish with fresh water. It depends on how thirsty the birds are whether they want to drink first and bathe after.

    Comment by bdouglas — March 10, 2011 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

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