Birds of Reston, Virginia: White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

blue-gray White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a tree trunk in reston Virginia
A white-breasted nuthatch with blue-gray wings. Reston, Virginia, Dec. 30, 2017.

It snowed this morning, which I hoped would mean an easier time finding birds in the leaf litter and sitting low in the shrubbery. This was not the case. But I did manage to see more nuthatches than usual.

Nuthatches are not woodpeckers, though they eat a similar diet of insects gathered from tree bark, along with nuts and seeds. They also hop around a lot like woodpeckers—probably more so. Of the individual nuthatches I viewed today, none paused in its hopping, flitting, and flying for longer than half a second at a time.

Taking photographs of nuthatches is a dizzying enterprise. The birds have a tendency to hop right out of the frame before I can take a shot. Thank goodness for high-speed camera settings.

The white-breasted nuthatch in the photo above looks blue, but not all are so vibrant. Wing and tail feathers can be gray, blue, or blue-gray, varying among individuals without regard to sex. (Sunlight can also play a role in appearance.)

grayish White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a tree trunk in reston Virginia
A white-breasted nuthatch on the grayer end of the spectrum.

Experts and people with better eyesight than I have can tell male white-breasted nuthatches apart from female ones. The males are reputed to have darker black caps, and the females are said to have duller (in color) faces and underparts. But since “duller” is a matter of degree, and I’m not sure how white can get any brighter or duller than, well, white, it seems to me you’d need a lot of nuthatches around to figure out who was who. Even then, one’s color judgment might not be reliable.

Here’s a new game I invented, just for this blog. It makes use of a few of the many photo-fails that occurred today when the nuthatches failed to pose nicely for my camera. It’s called:

Find the White-breasted Nuthatch

There’s a nuthatch in each of the following three photos. Can you find it? (Answers below.)

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) onhidden behind a tree branch in reston Virginia

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) onhidden behind a tree branch in reston Virginia

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) onhidden behind a tree branch in reston Virginia

 

Answers:

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