Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Friday, May 12, 2017


Earlier this year I was pleased to observe a red-breasted nuthatch sitting upright in the sunlight on this beautiful branch. The Pacific Madrona is one of my favorite trees. I love the warmth of its smooth chestnut-colored bark. I love its waxy, ever-green leaves which continue to work through the worst winter weather. I even appreciate the dead, gnarly branches which document the tree's heroic struggle for light and life.

In the photo above the nuthatch's pose looks normal. It is similar to any number of small perching birds, but actually it is the exception, not the rule. In my experience, nuthatches are for more likely to be seen hanging upside down with their tiny little tails pointed at the sky.

For a nuthatch, looking at the ground while hanging upside down is perfectly normal.

Using one foot to hold a cone while extracting a seed is child's play.

A topsy-turvy landing on a tree trunk while caching a seed in a crevice is just as normal as eating.

A nuthatch digging a nest hole in tree might appear conventional. However unlike woodpeckers, nuthatches do not have strong stiff tails to support them while they work. They are not endowed with long chisel-like beaks and they do not have large muscular bodies to help them hammer into a snag. Nuthatches do not dwell on their lack of physical endowments. Instead, they quietly remove tiny minuscule wood chips - one piece at a time. They do require deadwood which is at least part way to a state of decay.

Even for a nuthatch, this particular nest site is unconvetional. This dead madrona branch is actually horizontal. I have tried taking photos from almost every possible angle and I have yet to find a photo which truly communicates the unique angle of this nest site. Keep in mind that while taking the following photo I was looking straight up into the nest.

This photo from last year was taken just after the nest was completed. I believe the nuthatch had already finished the hardest of the un-conventional upside down work before I noticed the nest. You might want to pay particular attention to the reddish-brown bark and the clean fresh cuts.

This year the nuthatches have done a bit of external remodeling. The branch has been dead for years, so there is no way it is oozing sap. The parents pried each drop of sap from a living tree and relocated it to this location. Some say the nuthatches add the sap to make a trap to catch insects. I suspect it may also slow down potential predators.

One thing is for sure, the sap does not slow down the nuthatches. Especially when the young are small, the parents appear to fly right through the hole and into the nest. 

They remind me of darts hitting a bullseye at a local bar. I think this one is bringing in a daddy longlegs.

As the young get older and take up more space, the adults tend to slow down and land on the lip of the nest.

This time the adult appears to be bringing back some type of larval egg.

This time the bird may be carrying a termite or an ant.

Especially when the other adult is already in the nest, landing on the lip seems like a reasonable precaution.

Being harpooned by an exiting bird would most certainly hurt.

The head of this insect looks somewhat like a damselfly, but I am not sure about the relative size. I suspect it may be a smaller insect.

Earlier in the week I watched this male Cooper's hawk observe the nest. The nuthatches stopped for a moment and considered the threat. Then both adults entered the nest. The hawk came over and sat on the top side of the branch, but seemed a bit befuddled by the gravity-defying entry hole. When three joggers flashed past under the nest, the little hawk left in a hurry. After a minute or two the nuthatches resumed their lightning fast feeding pattern.

In this case, the nuthatch appears to have secured a long insect with many rounded little segments.

This time the parent is doing a dart-like approach with a small white worm.

Earlier in the week, while the parents were still entering the nest to feed the young, their exits apparently pulled out nesting material. The grass became entangled with the sap and created a long streamer which hung down from the nest for at least a couple of hours. Inside the nest you can see one of the adults with two little green worms.

This is one of my favorite exit photos.

By Wednesday, the young were large enough to hang out at the entry way with their mouths gaping open - anticipating more fast food. Not surprisingly, the yellow outline of this bird's mouth is called 'the gape'. No doubt the bright color helps the parents hit 'the bullseye' even in the dark confines of the nest.

A young bird peering down out of the nest.

This is not a food delivery. Actually, this is the exact opposite. The young bird has turned around and delivered a fecal pouch which the dutiful parents carry away to keep the nesting area clean.

I suspect the parents will still be bringing food to the nest for a few more days.

Soon the young will be spreading their wings and leaving the nest.

Hopefully, the hawk will not be watching at that exact moment.

I wonder if the parents will be able to warn the young if the hawk is in the area.

One thing is for sure...

The parents are certainly keeping a watchful eye in every possible direction.

In honor of my mother and mothers everywhere I am challenging my readers to find at least two photos in this post in which the female nuthatch can be identified. I will point out the best two examples below.

In Honor of Mother's Day

Here is one of my first 2017 eaglet photos, taken on May 8th. The two little heads sticking out of the nest are proof that Eva and Albert have successfully reproduced once again!


In the two photos immediately after the fecal pouch you can easily see that the top of the female nuthatch's head is not black, like the male's head. For comparison, the male is holding the fecal pouch.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

Which types of trees do you see in these photos and are they native to Union Bay?





Scroll down for answers


All three of this week's trees are native to Union Bay and the Pacific Northwest. Somewhere I read the Pacific Madrona is actually called Pacific Madrone when you are outside the Pacific Northwest. Either way you say it, it is the same beautiful tree.


  1. Larry- I loved this blog. On the first photo, I thought, "What is that?" I guess I've never seen an upright nuthatch, either.

    1. Thank you! I think the nuthatch must have stopped to enjoy a surprising ray of sunshine during our historically wet winter. They are amazing! Larry

  2. I love your pictures and observations. We have observed that our Red-breasted Nuthatches generally raise about 5 young. The parents seem to micro-manage their fledglings training in preparing them to survive.

    1. That is wonderful! I am impressed that you can determine the number of young. With the little ones hidden inside the nest, I have no clue how many are tucked away in the dark. Great job!