While we're Digressing... Pigmy Nuthatch Fledgling, and a Word About Snags

Last year a chestnut-backed chickadee family nested inside a knot in an old madrone tree on our property, and this year I figured they were back - but on closer inspection, I saw that this time two small gray and white birds were flying in and out, working hard, and moving too fast to ID.

If you look hard you'll see a black arrow on the photo above, pointing to the nesting hole.

Today I happened to look while there was a lot of activity. I grabbed my binoculars, and I could see the younglings pretty clearly, and I am pretty sure I saw two of the babies hop out and take a few test flights and fly off. . .

Soon there was just one baby left in the nest - and only one adult bird feeding it - or anyway one baby and one adult bird at a time is all I see.

I phoned up my daughter in the UK and chatted while watching them from our upper deck. Between me saying "No, there's no black on the head, just gray, and a bit of white behind at the nape," and such like, and my daughter sitting at her computer in the night time of far far away, working on the clues with whatbird.com, we identified the species as - we are pretty sure - Pigmy Nuthatch, Sitta pygmaea.

Above you can see the distance I was from the tree and the knot hole where the birds are nesting, so I know you'll forgive the grainy quality of the following photos from my trusty little superzoom camera, which I set on a tripod. I took them right after getting off the phone.


Where are you?

Mother! Where's my dinner? Ah - here she is!

Insects and seeds form their diet.

Yum-yum. Can I have more please?

Yum again!

Anything for dessert?

Below is mother I think, bottoms-up, checking the big baby, and then she was off foraging for more.

Here's the Snag
This year the energetic Huerta Brothers tree company has been doing great business up and down the street, as I have mentioned in prior posts. For several of my neighbors, they have removed all understory growth - scalped it to the ground - and removed all dead and low-hanging limbs. The pruning looks very neat, and there is much less fuel load now. But I do wonder about removing so many nesting sites. And about the missing understory - will it all grow back, healthier and less flammable than before, as if a fire had come through?

The old madrone where the birds are nesting has a neighbor, a completely dead madrone, and I know I should have her - I say her because I think of her as a tall and elegantly silver old lady - at least trimmed to remove all the twiggy bits. But It would be a real shame to totally remove her. She adds a lot of character to the north facing slope, as well as habitat for wildlife.

If you have an old dead or dying tree, consider leaving it as a "snag" for the wild life around you to use as homes. Here's a link to a short article on the value of snags, by the California Forest Stewardship Program.

Snags of large diameter do not burn as fast as brushy stuff. On the other hand, they can fall and kill fire fighters. I asked Jeffrey Caldwell if the dead madrone posed a problem in terms of just plain old falling over and he said that because they harden as they age and die, it would not pose a risk.

Of course, we must balance livability for humans and animals with fire safety. This week a botanist is coming up for a consultation, and I'll ask about the old madrone, and many other things, and let you know what I find out.


Pam/Digging said…
Cuteness! I love nuthatches, and fluffy chicks are even better.
Me too! I love nuthatches!!! And they really are hard to photograph.
Christine said…
I love how you refer to her as a silver, stately older woman. I can't explain why, but I refuse to plant a Madrone in my gardens- they seem the kind of tree you want to be stopped in your tracks with your mouth open overcome by the beauty of it in the quiet forest. I guess it's the equivalent of putting a wild animal in the city zoo for me. Yet paradoxically, I love zoos. (shrug). I'm so jealous you have them- with bonus nuthatches!
Noelle said…
Leaving a tree alone after it dies is something many of us should consider after reviewing the risks involved. I have seen so much wildlife living on or in dead trees. I hope the old madrone can stay. The nuthatches are just darling. How wonderful to have captured such great photos :-)
Gail said…
If you leave an old dead tree~just be sure it can't fall on anything important! I heard a noisy plop and ran outside to see that the dead tree had fallen just where the friend's car had been parked 15 minutes before! Lucky me and her.

I am much more careful now~The bird and mum are too cute, gail
Excellent series of photographs CM! I agree, there's a fine balance between trying to manage the land for fire-safety, and not unwittingly destroying valuable habitat. We're fortunate here to have so much space. We try to clear what we can that's close to the house (30-100' depending on our slopes), but for most of the property, our dead trees at least lie where they fall. With the exception of those that get snagged in the canopy above, those are usually at least felled all the way to the ground for safety. Those that fall in the creeks, on the advice of Fish & Game can no longer be legally removed, as they are considered to be valued fish habitat. I love rummaging around fallen trunks though, as they often have a wealth of plants, fungi, and animals associated with them. Our fallen madrone from this winter has some lovely native orchids growing next to it at the moment.
What great shots!!! Like a movie. Birds are such darlings, but the tree itself is beautiful too!
Anonymous said…
No need for an apology for picture quality - they are amazingly clear and detailed photos for having been taken from such a distance! I enjoyed both reading about and seeing these little Nuthatches, which I have not heard of before.
Genevieve said…
Country Mouse, what adorable photos, and thanks for the reminder that us landscapers should not be so vigorous as to remove all dead and dying wood and trees.