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

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Monday, July 13, 2020

Social Distancing

A Red-breasted Nuthatch is a small, beautiful bird with a loud voice which sounds like a toy trumpet. They are roughly the size of Black-capped Chickadees - except for the abbreviated tail. They are cavity-nesters. They build their nests by carefully excavating minuscule chunks out of dead branches or trunks.

2016 was the first year they nested inside this dead branch in the Arboretum.

They are also tool users. They collect resin from living trees and transfer it to the area surrounding their nest sites. It is easy to see the increasing amount of resin between this 2017 photo and the previous one. 

This particular branch had been dead, and slowly decomposing for many years. The resin did not seep out of the wood.

The resin may catch bugs or deter predators. Facing the nest hole down may also be a deterrent.

In 2018, the Nuthatches built a new nest about a foot and a half north of the old one. Once again you can see minimal resin in the first year.

In 2019, the nest was reused and the amount of resin increased.

Nuthatches are very skillful flyers. The resin does not bother them because they can fly into the nest e.g. collapsing their wings and shooting through the opening at high speed.

Even when reusing a previously excavated nest site, the Nuthatches will often spend time making or expanding nearby holes. Maybe they just have an urge to excavate that demands satisfaction regardless of the need or lack thereof. This particular hole is about a foot or so below the 2019 nest site.

In March of 2020, for the third year in a row, the Nuthatches considered reusing the same nest site. 

Although, they did seem to reevaluate the unused hole below the nest.

Nonetheless, the old nest worked its magic and drew them back.

After four years, the relative privacy of their neighborhood was shattered. A Downy Woodpecker, roughly twice the weight of a Nuthatch, took a liking to the same dead branch. (The male Downy has red on the back of the head. The female does not.)  

The Woodpecker made sizable new holes very close to the Nuthatch nest site. The Nuthatches' displeasure and harassment eventually motivated the Woodpecker to observe a little social distancing.

About six feet below the Nuthatch nest, the Downy Woodpecker began his nest building. By mid-May, the Nuthatches had been actively nesting for several weeks. 

Here is an earlier mid-April photo showing one of the Nuthatches feeding its offspring.

The Downy was on a different schedule. His nest was just getting started. Even if he had a mate they were a long way from having a safe place for eggs to incubate and young to hatch out.

Due to a well-placed curve in the branch, the Nuthatches could hear the Downy at work but at least they did not have to watch. Minimizing distractions was a good thing.

The young in the nest were hungry and the Nuthatches had work to do. They were in constant motion e.g. 'Hunt for food. Fly to the nest. Deliver the food. Repeat.'

Young birds require proteIn to feed their growth. Here the adult supplied an insect. 

Here, it is a short-changed, 'inch' worm.

Later in the year, once the young are out on their own, Nuthatches may be more inclined to focus on seeds and nuts - as their name implies.

But at this point, their lives were completely focused on the young. This included removing fecal pouches, which are sealed little packages that contain their offspring's poo. 

Just when it seemed like the Nuthatches were out of the woods, the female Downy appeared. She basically landed on top of the Nuthatch nest. You can just see the entry hole below the branch.

Luckily, she Ignored the neighbors and hopped down the branch until she was directly above the male Downy. Somehow, even though he could not see her, the male Downy knew she was there. He stopped excavating and climbed out of the nest hole to check out his visitor.

He must have interpreted her stance as an invitation and being inspired immediately took to the air. 

No doubt flying was faster than climbing, as he normally would have done.

Having a tail can get in the way.

However, birds have had plenty of time to figure out how to work around the challenge.

With mating accomplished the male Downy's motivation may have increased. In any case, the chips flew!

It looked like the female even helped out a bit.

Outside the Nuthatch nest, a young bird appeared.

The pristine beauty of new feathers puts an exclamation point on the bird's youth.

Adults, who have spent weeks working at high speed, look much more frazzled and worn.

One would think, at this point the Nuthatch nesting story is nearly finished for the year. All About Birds says they only have one brood per year. Birds of the World* says only once, in the wild, has a nesting pair of Nuthatches been observed raising a second brood of young and yet...

...the Nuthatches began emptying the nest.

Nonstop. Faster than the feeding process.

Every five to ten seconds, the Nuthatches came flying out of the nest with another load of used nesting material.

Typically, they flew to a branch on a nearby tree and dropped the used bedding, before flying directly back to the nest and repeating the process.

The process must have become tiring and at least one of the birds decided that throwing the chips out of the entryway was an adequate time-saving solution. Normally, cleaning a nest site is a prelude to nesting. 

Are these Nuthatches preparing to have another brood? If so, will their new neighbors be willing to coexist in the same area, using similar flight paths while caring for young on a nearly identical schedule? 

To Be Continued...

* Recommended Citation

 Ghalambor, C. K. and T. E. Martin (2020). Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rebnut.01


Tsuloss Watch:
By July 11th, Tsuloss was regularly walking out on the branch near the nest and occasionally hopping up on the tip of the branch. However, he or she has not been observed branching to any other limbs on the tree or regularly exercising his or her wings. Nonetheless, at some point, Tsuloss will learn to fly. 

The pool of likely winners is rapidly shrinking. August is beginning to look like a strong possibility. If you would like to play along send your name and the date you hope Tsuloss will truly take to the air. 

July 1st - Barry Saver
July 4th - Larry Hubbell
July 6th - Joe Clancy
July 8th - Cynthia Jones
July 9th - Lynne Kelly
July 10th - Lynn Adams
July 14th - Helen Spiro
July 15th - Jeff Graham
July 16th - Audrey Weitkamp
August 2nd - Tyler Mangum
August 3rd - Sue

(By the way, the nestling period for Bald Eagles, as stated on All About Birds, can vary quite a bit. It is listed as 56 to 98 days. This implies to me that Tsuloss might just as well fledge in late July or even August.)

The only rules I can think of for this impromptu, prize-less contest are:

A) I plan to only publish the name associated with the first entry I receive for each date. I want to encourage the widest variety of dates as possible.

B) Practice hops do not count e.g. when the young eagle flaps, lifts up and then comes right back down in the nest.  Also branching - hopping from branch to branch - does not count. Tsuloss must leave the air space above the nest.

C) Falling does not count. Tsuloss must leave the nest and exhibit an ability to stay in the air. However, if you do see Tsuloss fall from the nest and land on the ground, especially if unable to fly, please call:

 Lynnwood PAWS at 425-787-2500

PAWS has rehabilitated and released 3 out of Tsuloss's 4 siblings during the last 2 years. (The fourth sibling did not require assistance.)

The following information may help you make a more accurate guess:

Eaglet Patrol - The post suggesting when Tsuloss might have hatched.

Tsuloss - The last eagle update.

By the way, Tsuloss is most easily seen with binoculars from the north side of Montlake Cut. The nest site is shown on this Union Bay Map.

My email address is: ldhubbell@comcast.net

Naming Update:

There is evidently more than one way to pronounce the number five in the Lushootseed language. Aaron Peterson sent in this interesting update. 

Clicking Here will enable you to find the word for five and the link to the pronunciation guide, which I originally used. 


Have a great day on Union Bay...where Black Birders are always welcome!

Black Lives Matter,

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 our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

By the way, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is extremely helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

What species is this? Is it native to Western Washington?

Scroll down for the answer.


Common Green Darner: This species is native to our area and most of the continental United States. The male is the one holding on to the branch and in this case the one with blue coloring. This Darner pair remained together for more than 20 minutes, which was much longer than the Downy Woodpeckers.

Dennis Paulson's book, "Dragonflies and Damselfies of the West" covers this species and much more - e.g. all in the West. 


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is: LDHubbell@Comcast.Net


Here is one more photo for those who read to the end.
When the Damselfly on the left approached the Darners, the female Darner twitched the wing, nearest the Damselfly, which abruptly left the area.


  1. I'll take August 3. Thank you, Larry. I've now added walking to the cut to my CUH birding walk. Nice view and it adds steps in this very strange year.