Wednesday, April 27, 2016

There Goes The Neighborhood!

Resin in beak!
Well, the nuthatches are definitely a going concern. Things look a lot different than when the chickadees, Marge and Studley Windowson, were in the birdhouse. They just poked grass and stuff in there and neatened it all up and planted petunias in the front and kept the lawn trimmed, but these guys are a flat mess. I had no idea.

When it looked like the nuthatches were going to take over the lease, I read up on them to see if anything would be much different, other than that they'd be producing tiny invisible nuthatches instead of tiny invisible chickadees. One of the things I read that seemed a little exotic was that they might be inclined to daub pine resin around their nest-box hole. They might bring the resin in their beaks, or they might even use a tool, a piece of bark or a mortar trowel or something, to smear it around. The male is in charge of goobering up the outside of the hole and the female works on the inside. "It is thought," the literature says dubiously, "that this is meant to deter predators." In other words, no one's really sure why they do it. Presumably the nuthatches themselves avoid the sticky resin by shooting straight through the hole on the wing.

Toes rearranged for hanging upside-down
Of course, Marge and Studley could and did fly straight through the hole too, so it wouldn't deter chickadees. So the nuthatches have to be on their aggressive, territorial toes. And they are.  I thought the Windowsons were plenty protective of their house. Anyone flying anywhere near it got a good scolding, and no mistake. Nobody likes to be dee-dee-deed at by a feathered golf ball. But the nuthatches are way more ferocious. They're complete assholes about their territory, in fact. They no sooner spot a strange bird in the vicinity than they're diving right at it. They will even chase off hummingbirds, and hummingbirds don't take guff off of nobody. They'll spindle you as soon as look at you. They will poke you a new cloaca. But doggoned if they don't hit the road when the nuthatches come bombing in.

Business end of a male nuthatch
While I was reading up on nuthatches, I still wasn't sure we'd scored any. They were interested, but not committed. And supposedly it was quite rare for them to use a house instead of a tree cavity. But there is at least one advantage. If the hole in the tree is big enough for a nest but the entrance hole is too sprawly for proper security, they'll haul in mud and enshrinken it. So our birdhouse had exactly the right size hole (nuthatch diameter + a quarter inch) and they didn't have to do any masonry. That's a savings right there.

And then we saw it: pine resin coming in! The male was hanging outside the box by one toenail and smooshing resin on the outside of the hole, just like he'd read his own Wikipedia entry. This seemed serious. It's sticky stuff and not something you'd necessarily want on your own personal beak if you were planning to eat, unless you were driven. He'd schmear it around and then go to a nearby twig to try to scrape off the excess.

I was thrilled. Then, over the course of a few weeks, they brought in more and more resin, and the sun melted it so it ran all over the outside of the box, and every time one of them exited they dragged nesting material out, and it dangled from their toes like stuck toilet paper. Pieces of fluff and fur and bark strips are hanging out of the hole, dripping with resin. It looks like hell. The chickadees did everything but neatly line up plastic flamingoes and solar lights on the walkway. These guys were of a completely different school. They've got a broken-down washing machine on the front porch and a dead car in the yard and plastic toys and beer cans. They's slovenly.

There's so much resin on the place that I fear for the hatchlings. I never did witness the chickadee puppies' maiden flights, but if these little guys don't get a really good jump, they're going to end up glued to the side of the house. Nuthatches On A Stick.  It will look like carnival food for hawks. I can't bear to watch.

28 comments:

  1. ...And property values will go down on the nest box for next year, unless you go out there before the season starts and clean off the resin. I hope you got a security deposit. And these guys are relatives of the chickadee family, so you'd expect them to be tidier. Obviously, they are the hayseed cousins from the wrong side of the tracks.

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    1. It's Dave's job to clean up the box every winter, and he's already grousing. As it were.

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  2. Wonderful post. I'm finally back in nuthatch territory and can't wait to get to enjoy them up close. So far, I've just heard them honking their little toy horns.

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    1. They cheer me right the hell up, they do. I don't remember seeing them in the yard until a few years ago. I thought it was an irruption or something but they've been back every year. Even in the winter.

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  3. I think you should write a book on all the birds you see.

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    1. I DID, DAMMIT. And my agent has failed to find me a publisher, so far.

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  4. We put up a nuthatch box because we have so many nuthatches. Did they take the house? Nope, we have chickadees. Maybe next time.

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    1. See? Mine didn't read THAT part of the Wikipedia entry.

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  5. Huh! I never realized that nuthatches were the ill-bred white trash of the bird world.

    If a chickadee pecked me a new cloaca, it would be largely redundant. I don't know what I'd do with one, since I don't lay eggs.

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    1. Well, you don't call them eggs, anyway.

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  6. Nice business end shot! I always like their "beepity beep beep" call. I think a lot of them live around our local trailer court.

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    1. Now I get to see them beeping from a yard away. Their whole heads go up and down.

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  7. Good'urn, Murr! The Studleys' southeastern cousins just fledged 3 out of 5 eggs here. There were a couple of rejects, I guess. Bad eggs. Maybe we'll get lucky and host nuthatches next. The thing that bugs me is that it's a BLUEBIRD house, dammit! Said so right there on the sales tag! I proclaim false advertising on somebody's part.

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    1. Wow. We never got chickadee puppies until about the end of May, and never got a second set, either. But we could hang out a certified bluebird house and never achieve one till the end of days.

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  8. Mucky little buggers, aren't they?

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    1. When I first saw the nest materials hanging outside of the box,I tried to scootch it back in, and I'm here to tell you it's a sticky mess. Fragrant though.

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    2. Probably where someone got the idea for those "bathroom wipes"

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  9. Ack - that took a turn for the worse right at the end there. My eyes are covered now, too.

    I wonder if we have nuthatches here. Must google it.

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  10. Annnnd... yes indeedy we do, and I HAD to come back and tell you so because apparently in my province we fondly call them "tomtits" ...

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    1. I've heard of tomtits! Didn't know they were nuthatches, though.

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    2. And apparently in another province they are fondly called "quanks" ...

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  11. And they'll likely keep coming back year after year, unless the chickadees get there first next time.

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    1. Yeah, they were all checking it out at once. I don't think the chickadees thought it was going to be a problem, and they were late getting it in gear.

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  12. Not fur. Surely not fur. And truly? You've haven't seen birds trash up the neighborhood until you've had sparrows nesting. Crap everywhere and then they get into domestic violence and right after that, child abuse. They will pluck their young from the nest and pitch them out whether they can fledge or not. I think it was good when you had the Windowsons.

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    1. Certainly, fur. They use fur. I read that, and I went and borrowed a cup of golden retriever from a neighbor and put it in a cage for them. They used it. Now it's gooey fur. The Windowsons were doting parents and quite tidy, I will say.

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  13. Only one of my boxes with chickadees and a nest with no eggs. They are very skittish even though I fed them through the winter. All the rest of my boxes seem to be empty??

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    1. I only put up the one box because otherwise they'd feel too crowded. We only have 100x100 feet. You have a lot of land?

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