By Jim Gain
Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.
Post #24 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 38/100 + 2 BONUS birds)
White-breasted Nuthatch – Species #38
The White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) is a small songbird with a distinctive black, gray and white coloration; a blue-gray back, and a white face and belly. The males and females are similar in appearance and can be difficult to distinguish without close observation. The bird’s bill is relatively long and straight, which helps it probe for insects and other small prey in tree bark.
In the Central Valley of California, the White-breasted Nuthatch can be found year-round in oak woodlands and mixed-conifer forests. It is a non-migratory species, so individuals do not typically leave their range during the winter months. The birds are known for their acrobatic foraging behavior, often creeping upside-down or sideways along tree trunks and branches in search of food.
They primarily feed on insects and seeds, but will also take advantage of suet and other backyard bird feeders when available. The White-breasted Nuthatch is a cavity-nesting species and will excavate its own nest in dead or decaying trees.
BONUS BIRDS – The following two bird species share very similar behavior characteristics as the White-breasted Nuthatch but are Uncommon in occurrence and therefore not official members of the 100 Common Species club.
Red-breasted Nuthatch – Species #38b
The Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) is a small bird with a distinctive appearance and behavior that can be observed in the Central Valley of California. They are approximately four and a half inches long with a blue-gray back, a white face, and a rusty red breast. They have a short, straight beak that is perfect for extracting insects from tree bark, which is one of their primary food sources. These birds also have a habit of clinging upside down on tree trunks, using their sharp claws to support themselves as they search for food.
In terms of natural history, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a year-round uncommon resident of the Central Valley, although they are more often seen during the winter months. They tend to nest in tree cavities, where they lay their eggs in a bed of bark, moss, and other soft materials. These birds are also known for their vocalizations, which include a distinctive yank-yank call that can be heard echoing through the trees. Overall, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a charming and interesting bird that adds color and personality to the Central Valley’s natural environment.
Brown Creeper – Species #38C
The Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) is a small, slender bird found in the forests of North America. In the Central Valley of California, Brown Creepers are typically found in mature deciduous and mixed-coniferous forests, as well as in riparian woodlands. These birds are easily identified by their mottled brown plumage, which blends in perfectly with tree bark, allowing them to remain concealed while foraging.
Brown Creepers are insectivores and primarily feed on small insects and spiders found on tree trunks and branches. They use their long, curved bills to probe crevices and under loose bark for prey. Brown Creepers also use their stiff, pointed tail feathers to help them climb trees in a spiral motion, much like a woodpecker.
Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series: