Thursday, May 31, 2007

Norris and friends

Perhaps our family is strange, but we have often given nicknames to our various favorite woodland critters. We’ve done this for years. I have talked about her before, but one example is “Bottlebrush,” the resident red squirrel with the unusually flared tail. I think the assignment of nicknames was born out of a need for more efficient communication. Instead of saying, “Hey, our favorite red squirrel with the really strange tail is here,” it is much easier to simply say “Bottlebrush is here.”

The infamous “Bottlebrush” enjoying some sunflower seeds

And then there is Norris.

Back in Mom and Dad’s woods, there is a rather friendly red-breasted nuthatch who we call “Norris.” There is nothing significant about the name, it is just that “Norris Nuthatch” seems to have a nice ring to it! :)

The red-breasted nuthatch is a tiny, rotund little masked bandit of the northern forests. They, along with the black-capped chickadees, are among the most common birds seen at the bird feeder all year long. One fun thing about both the nuthatches and the chickadees is that they can be friendly to the point that (if they get used to your presence) they will go so far as to take seeds directly from your hand.

A lot of my weekend was spent in the woods, and whenever we would approach Norris’ territory, he would eventually find us. I had to keep sunflower seeds with me at all times as this little guy would fly right to my hand, take a single seed, and fly off to store it. This would be a continuous routine, and I am sure I fed him hundreds of times over the course of the weekend.

Norris was often accompanied by a roving band of chickadees, which created some competition. A number of times I had a pair of chickadees sitting on my hand at the same time trying to eat. However, Norris is the more aggressive of the species, so if he wanted his seed, he would just bulldoze his way in there, flap his wings, and make his distinctive nasal chatter to clear out the chickadees. This would prompt the chickadee to fly to a nearby branch (or occasionally to my arm, shoulder, or hat!) to patiently wait his turn.

Yours truly with Norris

A funny thing happened on my last day. A chickadee was in my hand when Norris came barging in, causing the chickadee to jump to my wrist. While this was going on, a large mosquito landed on my thumb. I certainly knew I would not be able to smack it with these birds in my hand, so I was prepared to suck up the sting until the birds departed.

Just then, Norris (sitting on my fingertips) casually leaned forward, snapped up the bug, grabbed his sunflower seed, and left! It happened so quickly, and Norris didn’t hesitate for a second. It was as if he saw the mosquito and said, “Ooh, snacks!” and quickly disposed of the insect before returning to his business. And when Norris left. the chickadee patiently waited his turn and took his food to go. I was in hysterics!

So that was much of my weekend; feeding Norris and the chickadees. Perhaps you think I am nuts, but that was some of the most fun I have had in ages. And if you ever see a red-breasted nuthatch, please give him a round of applause. Not only is he a great little bird, but he is also on "mosquito patrol!" :)
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