Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

February 5, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 57(16=19): 14-N.

A Red-Breasted Nuthatch Year in Turner Park.

Dozens of Them Where Single Birds Have Been Seen Before.

Little Beauties.

By Sandy Griswold.

This is certainly a red-breasted nuthatch year, as I have seen more of these rare little beauties this season in this particular section of the country than ever before, but back in the big woods of my old Ohio home they were about as plentiful as their commoner relative, the whitebreast.

While they are regular visitors here in the late fall and winter, they are never encountered only in isolated cases, but it is different this winter. I have seen dozens of them in my solitary watches in Turner court, across the way from my home, and in fact we daily feed one, along with the chickadees, jaybirds and an occasional other bird, on our window sill; and, in fact, he has taken up his domicile in a hole under the main limb of the big cottonwood which lifts its gaunt and pallid branches along the walls of our apartment, and we know him as intimately as we know each other.

I recall, just a couple of weeks since, I had a little paper here on the nuthatches, and while I told a lot about them, I did not, of course, tell it all.

They are among our most interesting winter birds, and unlike the woodpecker, the nuthatches belong to the family of perching birds, not withstanding their exquisite skill in creeping up and down the boles of the trees. The systematists have given them this distinction in the avicular classification because they perch like the robin, the bluejay, goldfinch, chickadee and many other birds, and this relegation is proper, as they have the feet of the true passeres, with three toes in front and one, a strong one, behind. This is where they differ, in similitude from the woodpeckers, with which family, however, they are closely linked. The woodpeckers have either two fore toes and two behind, or two in front and one behind, and never perch crosswise on limb or twig.

Champion of All Our Arboreal Birds.

The nuthatches are really the champion gymnasts of all our arboreal birds, descending a tree hole head down, which the woodpeckers never do, but hitch themselves backward, fall always toward the ground, despite the advantage of two hind toes, which it would seem would facilitate locomotion in this direction.

It is certainly enough to astonish the uninitiated to learn what a real abundance of bird life there is in our winter woods and fields, and many of them, too, are with us all through the sweet old summer time.

Just last Tuesday morning after that inch fall of wet, fluffy snow, I spent the earlier hours over in Turner park, really, a very treasury of both bird and plant secrets, for an acre so limited. Knowing that most of the birds, if there were any there, and I was sure there were, would haunt the sheltered hollow, through which Saddle creek used to rush with such impetuosity, and thither I betook myself and sat down amid the snowladen clumps of bridal wreath.

In a moment, from where I did not discover, a tufted titmouse flitted to the ground, and from a bare spot, swept clean of snow by the wind, he grabbed something in his sturdy little beak, darted upward to the branch of the big dead cottonwood nearby, and clutching whatever it was that he had found on the ground, with one claw, proceeded to pick it to pieces. Even with my glasses I could not make out what it was. Rising for a better range, he espies me, flits over near the base of the limb and pushes it into a crevice of the bole's bark, and after hammering it tightly into place, darted away, with his cheery chickadee-ee-ee through the gray branches in the direction of windowsill, and then I knew that it was a fragment of an English walnut which he had previously taken possession of there and brought it over into the park.

Storing Provisions for a Needier Day.

It wasn't long before he was back again, and in a different place on the old cottonwood bole, he hammered another morsel away for safe-keeping - storing away provisions for a needier day, which is one of the winter's exactions of the chickadee, as it is of the little woodpeckers, the hairy and downy, and the brown creeper and the bluejay as well.

A great proportion of each dreary winter day is spent by these hardy little feathered folk in the diligent search for life-sustaining sustenance. And they never fail to solve the problem, either in inclement or fair weather, Dame Nature never fails to spread the table for her avian charges, although she makes them rustle for it, just like we humans are compelled to rustle for ours. In the winter time they find larvae, insects' eggs, grubs, borers and tiny coleopterous bugs under the drift of leaves and other wind accumulated refuse, in the crannies of bark of the trees and in all sorts of unthinkable crypts, nooks and niches.

My chickadee was not left lonely but a very short time. His cheerful piping and energetic hustling across and through the park and back to the old cottonwood, soon brought plenty of his pals to the spot - chickadees, nut hatches and the little woodpeckers, with an occassionally tree sparrow and little flurries of juncoes, while several bluejays derided us all vituperatively from the distant elms.

Pretty Antics of the Chickadees.

And many were the pretty antics I saw, especially on the part of the chickadees. Upon a big, snow laden limb one would hop, whirl about several times, switch his long square ended tail, wipe his little tiny black bill on a convenient upthrusting twig, like a barber stropping his blade. Then with a sufficient cleared space to suit his fancy, he would thrust his beak into the snow, flirting the white crystals all about him, and then pecking at the fragments at his feet, just like he does at the chopped nuts on my window sill.

About him flitted one or two others, plunging into the miniature snowbanks on the limbs and twigs, often standing in them, on one big limb or another, up to their white breasts, brushing the immaculate segments into the air, for all the world like a little snowstorm, and all the time keeping up their musical din.

Below me, in the open beyond the shrubbery, there were several sparrows and a few juncoes breakfasting on the seeds of the grass and the curling vines amidst the brush - some clinging to the stems, others scratching in the snow itself, and all pecking, pecking, pecking as if at a regular banquet table.

Before I left I went down and over there, and the delicate tracery of their feet in the snow looked all the world as if some elfs had been writing their autographs on the untarnished scroll. Like the rabbit and the squirrel, these little feathered mites leave distinctive trails. The chickadee a reticulation of dainty hieroglyphics - the sparrows and the juncoes, a pair of tiny footprints at regular distances, one just before the other, and each doublet connected by a slender, almost invisible thread, beautifully traced by their sharp claws.

And then, on my way home, two squirrels appeared on the snow covered ice of the skating pond, which looked like a pavement of alabaster, where in the moonlight elves and fairies might assemble for a nocturnal foxtrot.

What long leaps they took, as they crossed the white expanses, as I advanced, until, reaching one of the big cottonwoods on the east shore. Up this they scurried, and from the security of a low crotch, snickered irascibly at the intrusion.

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