A Tale of Two Nuthatches
Brown-headed Nuthatch, Sitta pusilla (L): Guntersville Dam Recreational Area near New Hope, Alabama. Pygmy Nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea (R): Moraine Valley; Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado.
The Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pygmy Nuthatch are about as close and you can come to two birds that are so much alike. Both species favor similar habitat, but in totally different regions of the United States.
Brown-headed Nuthatch: Guntersville Dam Recreational Area near New Hope, Alabama
The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a bird of the South, ranging from North Carolina south and west to eastern Texas. It is a bird of the pine forest, especially open loblolly pine lands where trees are spaced twenty feet or more apart.
The Brown-headed food, consist primarily of insect and pine seeds during winter. During the breeding season they favor beetles, caterpillars, and spiders. They often travel in flocks scouring tree trunks and branches probing cracks, scaling bark and gleaning pine needles for prey.
During the nesting season the Brown-headed Nuthatch employ nest helpers. These helper birds are usually young males. It is not currently known if the helpers are offspring of the breeding pair or not.
The Pygmy Nuthatch is a bird of the western mountain pine forest ranging up to ten-thousand feet in elevation in the California mountains. It lives almost exclusively in long-needled pine forest, particularly associated with ponderosa pines. Its typical habitat is open, park like stands of older, larger trees.
Like its eastern counter part, the Pygmy Nuthatch feeds primarily on insects and pine seeds. Pygmy’s also travel in flocks searching for prey in cracks between and under bark plates and gleaning seeds from pine cones and insects form pine needle bundles.
Also, like the Brown-headed Nuthatch, the Pygmy Nuthatch gets help raising young. During the nesting season, a pairs relatives usually help in nesting duties such as feeding incubating females, and defending territory.
Pygmy Nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea:
Moraine Valley; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Both species are similar in appearance and size as well. The Brown-headed had a dull brown crown, white underparts, and a blue gray upper body, wings and rump. Its size ranges from 3.9-4.3 inches (10-11cm). The Pygmy Nuthatch sports a rich brown cap, white underparts and slate gray upper body, wings and rump. Its size range is slightly smaller at 3.5-4.3 inches (9-11cm). Both species sport a white spot on their napes, with the spot being a bit more pronounced on the Brown-headed.
Perhaps it is the behavior that bonds these two species the most. Both are energetic feeders. They forge on trunks of their beloved pines and are constantly in motion as they move down and around tree trunks and branches to feed. I have seldom seen either species stop for more than a second. They also move in family flocks and are often found with chickadees, kinglets and other songbirds. Even their songs are similar, both sounding like a child’s squeaky toy.
I must confess that I do love photographing these two species. As I photograph one, I am constantly reminded of the other and can not help making comparisons between the two. But perhaps it is simply the joy of being so close too, and my presence accepted by these tiny bundles of feathers.
Hear the Brown-headed Nuthatch vocalization here: Scroll down to “Songs and Calls.”
Here the Pygmy Nuthatch vocalization here: Scroll down to “Songs and Calls.”
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Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/125 second @ f/7.1
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/500 second @ f/7.1
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/250 second @ f/7.1
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f/4, 1/800 second @ f/10