Operation: Target Species


White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nut Hatch
Photo by Amy Zimmermann

In 2018, NAAS Conservation Committee members began contributing to three ongoing bird surveys:

  1. Climate Watch – National Audubon
  2. Western Rivers Bird Count – National Audubon
  3. Marsh birds survey – U.S.G.S. and the University of Arizona

This installment of “Operation: Target Species” conveys information concerning our first target species of the year, the White-breasted Nuthatch (WBNU). Amy Zimmermann’s December 5, 2018 article shows actual 2018 survey results. This brief discussion takes us further into why the WBNU is a target species.

In 2014, Audubon released its Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report. http://climate.audubon.org/article/audubon-report-glance

Models showed that the WBNU is a species that may see its “climatic ranges shrink, shift, or expand in the coming decades.” Audubon estimates it will lose 79% of its summer range and 36% of its winter range due to climate change. By participating in Climate Watch, we get to help “ground-truth” their models and “confirm and improve their accuracy.”

In Sedona, we find this small songbird of the nuthatch family most often at feeders. They tend to join in mixed flocks with Bridled Titmice and Mountain Chickadees. If you find one, you may also see its mate. More eyes in a mixed flock give birds a better chance against predators.

Male White-breasted Nuthatches, in particular, often steal the caches of their mates. Watching a pair of nuthatches at the feeder, you will notice that the female often flies off with a seed less than 30 seconds after the male embarks on a caching flight, and that she usually flies in the opposite direction in order to best throw the male off her trail. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/where-is-that-bird-going-with-that-seed-its-caching-food-for-later/

They cache food in the gnarly bark of deciduous trees, such as Cottonwoods; and in Ponderosas above the rim. Then as described by their name, they “hatch” the seed by hammering the nut with their sharp bill. NAAS bird guide, Chip Engelmann said they used to be named “hack” for the way they hacked into the nuts. White-breasted Nuthack?

They can be found at woodland edges and in open areas with large trees; such as parks and wooded suburbs. Teams selected points with this in mind.

At low elevations it is a more “rare and irregular wanderer.” http://cbrp.org/SDBluebirds/White-breastedNuthatch.pdf

On our first Sedona summer survey, May 24, 2018, we had ZERO White-breasted Nuthatches. Zip, zilch, nada. We wiffed at 24 points in two squares.  We felt dejected. Especially when broad Yavapai County eBird stats show that a WBNU is reported on 2-12% of checklists.  However, an absence is still data; and the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas does say it’s “sparse.” (Coconino County checklists have approximately a 10%-40% chance of including a WBNU.)

This winter’s survey checklists did match the expected percentage range. But, only years of consistent counting will tell. There will be no shortage of time, as the survey is projected to go through 2080!

 “Protecting birds from climate change is a central pillar of Audubon’s mission. In the hands of the Audubon network around the country, this data will drive our conservation efforts now and into the future.”

NAAS is doing its part. If you wish to join future surveys, please contact us.

Audubon suggests ways to help:

Get Talking: When it comes to climate change, people don’t need more science; they need a little love. Research shows that people’s climate opinions are informed most by what they hear from their peer group. So talk (in person or online) to friends and family about the birds you love, and how climate change threatens their long-term survival. http://climate.audubon.org/article/what-you-can-do-help-protect-birds

Submitted by Kay Hawklee

NAAS Conservation Committee and Board Member