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Brown-Headed Nuthatches | Roost Cleaning

There were five.


Five Brown-headed Nuthatches were flying in and out of the cavity in the dead Dogwood tree in our neighbor's yard.

For a moment I had to ask myself: it's October, right? This was the very tree where 17 months before I had watched as two Bluebirds went in and out of this cavity as they fed their nestlings. I expected that in the spring. Simultaneously a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches were feeding their nestlings in another hole a bit higher up the tree on that warm morning in May.

But this was now October. It stopped me in my tracks.

In one moment I watched as, one after the other, five Brown-headed Nuthatches flew from the cavity, their beaks full of "stuff" from inside: bugs, shavings, etc. This went on for the entire time I stood there and, I assume, long afterward.

One by one the birds would each fly up to the tree...

peak inside, hop inside, then poke its head out, its beak now full of things being cleared from the crevice.

Then the bird would take off and another would fly in.

Sometimes there would be multiple Nuthatches in the cavity at the same time. I can only imagine what that flurry of feathers and frenzied cleaning must have been like in that small space.

Curious about what I'd observed, I did a bit of reading. I learned that some songbirds which nest in tree cavities in the spring will roost in tree cavities in the winter. They don't build nests for the winter, and they aren't necessarily in the place where they nested the previous spring. However, they do seek the shelter of a tree crevice that blocks them from the wind. They fluff up their feathers and are often in groups to stay warm.

Have you watched this in the cooler months? I'd love to hear about it. In the meantime if you'd like to learn more, here are a couple of links I read:


If you'd like to see the entire album from this day, please click here.

The writing of this blog was prompted by my observations and photographs. I also write a weekly Saturday nature email called A Closer Look. It is simply one of my nature photos and a short bit of original writing (and it is much shorter than this blog post). If you'd like to subscribe (it's free), please fill in the form at the bottom of the Contact/Subscribe page on my website: Thank you for reading!

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1 Comment

Karen Houlding
Karen Houlding
Oct 22, 2022

What an amazing observation! I can see why we need to leave dead tree stumps (snags) standing for our precious birds to roost and stay warm in winter! Thanks for sharing!

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