Bird Lady Blog

September 4, 2011

Which Half Are You In?

Filed under: Acorn Woodpecker Steller's Jay Nuthatches,Birdwatchers,Football — Munds Park Birding @ 9:24 am

In the last issue I made a comparison of bird watching to football watching.  According to two separate studies, 60% of the U.S. population follows professional football, and 20% of the U.S. population is actively birding (referring to birders who get out of their neighborhood and seek birds).  I
don’t know enough about the surveys’ methodologies to know if this comparison is “apples to apples”, so I decided to conduct my own unofficial survey in Munds Park of our “birding” population and generate my own statistics.

I took a walk north on Stallion Drive from our house, up east and then south on Mustang, and back west on Thunderbird to our house.  I looked at each house and yard and made a tic mark on one of two columns.  The first column was for any house that had any bird attracting apparatus – a bird bath, bird feeder, or bird house.  The other column was for tic marks for houses with none of the above.  Keep in mind I could only look in front and side parts of the property, not back decks or yards.  After all, I did not want to look so nosy that the Neighborhood Watch folks would be notified!

I counted 95 houses in all, and 43 had something for attracting birds, and 52 did not.  Taking my survey one step further, I made a conservative assumption that 10% of the 52 homes had some type of bird attracting apparatus in their back yards or decks, but not in the front, so I adjusted the count by 5 less to the 52 number and 5 more to the 43 number.  End result?  48 houses with bird-attracting “stuff”, and 47 not, for a 50/50 split.  Which leads me to conclude that there are almost as many people who watch birds as do follow NFL football.  I probably will never be hired by Gallup polls.  But even though my survey was unscientific, I think it did imply that there is a large population of bird lovers in Munds Park.  And I bet that a good majority of the other 50% are probably noticing birds at their neighbors’ feeders or flying through the trees.  But that is just a guess – I promise to not go knocking on doors to find out.

For those of you who feed birds anything other than peanuts or nyger seed, you probably have nuthatches visit your feeder.  We have two types of nuthatches in Munds Park – Pygmy and White-Breasted.  Nuthatches have large heads, short tails, powerful bills and feet, and advertise their territory using loud, simple songs. Most nuthatches exhibit grey or bluish upperparts and a black eye stripe, and members of the genus are found in other parts of the world such as India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece, Iran, and China.

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 White Breasted Nuthatch, like its name, has 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 nI’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 break from winter.  This bird nests in tree cavities, so you could possibly attract one to your property with a nest box.


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