In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here’s a question from our June 2014 issue:
A White-breasted Nuthatch came around the trunk of a tree and encountered a chipmunk. The nuthatch partially spread its wings, then slowly rocked back and forth. What was it doing? — Jill Graham, Cambridge, Massachusetts
You witnessed the bird’s threat display. The behavior occurs when a nuthatch is confronted with an enemy, including a rival nuthatch. In a fairly mild display, the bird points its bill upward and spreads its tail and wings partially. In the most intense display, it opens its wings and tail fully, exposing the black-and-white pattern on each feather, flicks, flashes, or beats the wings, and sways excitedly. Forms of this aggressive display are similar in many of the world’s 28 species of nuthatch.
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.