Not a white-breasted nuthatch, from an amateur bird-watcher

I identified a little white-breasted nuthatch today. You would think that I would already know that bird, especially if I call myself a bird-watcher. I suppose I should call myself a novice bird-watcher, or a wanna-be bird-watcher. Don’t even get me started on wrens and sparrows. How people tell the subtle differences between some of these birds is beyond me. And unlike true bird-watchers who may travel the globe, or at least the local area, in search of birds, I watch primarily from the comfort of my kitchen table with a cup of tea and, if I’m real ambitious, my digital camera close at hand.

For a while now I’ve been noticing this little white and blue-gray bird with a distinctive black hood, almost a stripe, down the back of its head and across its shoulders. So I finally got my bird book and looked for it. There it was in Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies, copyright 1980 (wow, I’ve had this book a long time), on page 213 – a pair of white-breasted nuthatches. Upon second glance, I see that the black-headed one is the male. The female has a blue-gray head and what looks like a black collar. I should have known she’d be the less distinguished of the two.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, snapping photos. And I just had to show you this one of the red-bellied woodpecker. This bird is striking in its color and size. I always notice it when it is around.

Here’s the nuthatch with a little male house finch. I mistook it for a purple finch, but that one has a purple head, unless its the female which is just basically brown with white varigations. The female house finch looks very similar. I don’t know how I’ll ever tell it from a sparrow, wren, or finch.

Oh no. Hold everything. What is that black mark on the nuthatch’s throat? And where is the black collar? Crud. I’ve mistaken a black-capped chickadee for a white-breasted nuthatch. Forget what I said about the nuthatch. Tricky business, this bird-watching.

Two little tufted titmice just landed on the feeder outside the window in the study where I sit as I type this. They’re one of my favorite birds. They look a little like a miniature gray cardinal to me. You’ll have to do without a photo today because I can’t be jumping up to get my camera every two minutes. I’m working here. I think I have a photo posted here somewhere.

While I was sitting in the kitchen watching birds, all of a sudden I saw a large shadow move across the deck outside and all the little birds fled. I got up and looked out the door to see a large hawk perched in a tree near the feeder. I’ve noticed this before and feel bad that we may have created a hawk feeding ground by attracting small birds to our feeder. But as my good friend and naturalist Marty has pointed out, maybe the hawk is just trying to feed her babies. Although I’m pretty sure birds don’t have babies this time of year. But you get the idea.


For more bird photos, see my bird page under the wildlife tab above.

27 thoughts on “Not a white-breasted nuthatch, from an amateur bird-watcher”

  1. Oh my—I am so totally with you!!!! I had a bird at my feeder here last week that I was clueless as to what it was. I sent a picture off to my nephew and he identified it as a juvenile starling!!! No big new bird find here—just a baby starling!!! I thought I had found a new variety!!! I am the worst at identifying but I have two bird experts in my family who can identify anything at all!!! And I am right with you with the hawk thing. I witnessed one snatching a finch from my feeder this fall. My brother told me it was the circle of life—all part of the plan and that I should not fret about setting a trap for the little birds. I still shudder when I think about it, though. Loved the pictures. Keep em coming!

    1. These juvenile birds can really throw you off. The sound of the juvenile owl threw me off. I had heard a great horned adult call before, but the juvenile squawk was something else altogether.

      I’m pretty sure I would shudder about it also. I hope I never witness it.

  2. I love to see the red bellied woodpecker pic, what a beautiful shot, and it’s what got me started on my bird book mystery. We don’t have those kinds of woodpeckers in Maine and have only seen them in photos, so I’m quite envious! We do however have many chickadees (it’s Maine’s state bird) 😉

  3. LOL. I kept looking at your photo, thinking . . . hmm . . . I always thought that was chickadee

    I guess it takes a nuthatch to know one! 😆

    1. I actually wasn’t nutty. I did see a nuthatch. I saw it again today. I think it is a skitzo bird, because it doesn’t land very long. I think it might be hard for me to photograph.

  4. By feeding the birds, you are insuring the survival and growth of a flock. Hawks have to eat, too, I just prefer them to have a pigeon or starling…
    Finches have a large, triangular beak compared to a sparrow. The cardinal is a type of finch, which gives you a large version of the beak.
    And I love woodpeckers! A couple years ago we had a red-bellied pair, but I haven’t seen a male at the feeder since then, only the female. I hope she finds a mate this year.

    1. Thanks for the tip about finches. Right now I am doing good to recognize overall color and large distinguishing blotches of accent color. But you’re right, real bird watchers have to know about it all and be able to distinguish particular details. On a moving target, that ‘s not always very easy.

      We love the woodpeckers too.

  5. I, too, enjoy watching birds. I am an amateur, also, with Peterson’s Field Guide to help me identify what birds I’ve seen. These days I rarely go outside except to drive to the grocery store. How precious the minutes I spend driving are now. The breeze, sunshine, rain, whatever. One must sit and watch to see birds. I don’t mean to make my life sound bad. My life is good. Just different for a while. I cherish these days. I like reading your posts. I will post when I can. Blessings and thank you for sharing…

      1. We (my deceased husband and I) had a feeder. He was the one that taught me to watch birds. We went on hikes with our binoculars in hand and our Peterson’s Guide. I couldn’t keep up with a feeder now, if I had one. I like seeing your feeder photos and Patti’s, too.

  6. I am so glad to read that someone else has trouble with identification of birds. I’m always mixing them up and even when I think I’ve got it, I often turn out to be wrong. That’s okay. It’s the joy of watching the birds that counts.

    Beautiful photos, and I really enjoyed your narrative. 🙂

    1. Part of the problem was that the nuthatch was just too quick. I did see a nuthatch, and have seen one since, but when looking through the camera lens, I can’t always tell exactly what I’m looking at. I will get a photo of one yet.


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