Surprise Visitors Wing Their Way South

A Red-breasted Nuthatch irruption brings unexpected visitors to northeast Georgia this fall.

by Peter Gordon

In early October, when north Georgia was still within the grips of summer’s relentless heat and mugginess, I heard a bird call in the pine trees near my house that stopped me in my tracks. It sounded like a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis.

Typically, this bird does not venture as far south as Gainesville in Hall County, Georgia, unless an irruption has occurred. A Red-breasted Nuthatch irruption brings unexpected visitors to northeast Georgia this fall.

Red-breasted Nuthatches normally stick to the higher latitudes. Their normal range extends the length of Canada into southeastern Alaska and much of the western U.S. In the east, the little bird is found around the great lakes and New England, as well as an elevated strip of Appalachian ridgetop. This brings the Red-breasted Nuthatch as far south as the extreme northeast Georgia mountains.

An irruption, in ornithological parlance, is when large numbers of a bird species leave their normal winter range to migrate southward usually because of a shortage of food, unseasonably bad weather or a combination of the two. Red-breasted nuthatches irrupt earlier than most species and may reach their southernmost point by September or October. 

It is nice to know that they have settled in our beautiful home for the fall and could be with us through the winter as well. The Red-breasted Nuthatch is an endearing little bird whose upside-down view of the world and its energetic behavior make it popular with both birders and non-birders, like that of its more commonly seen cousins, the White-breasted, Sitta carolinensis, and the Brown-headed, Sitta pusilla

Extend some southern hospitality to these special visitors by putting out sunflower seed and suet feeders. These terrific and entertaining birds will appreciate the gesture.

Read more about the Red-breasted Nuthatch by visiting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site.

Want Even More Birds?

Mark your calendar for these two public seasonal birding events. 

  • Join me for an Elachee Birding Hike on Saturday, February 16, 2019 as part of a local citizen-science project of the national Great Backyard Bird Count.
  • Get up close and personal with birds of prey at Elachee’s 5th Annual Raptor Fest. This family-friendly festival is Saturday, March 16, 2019.

For other questions about birds, plants or nature in general, please call Elachee at (770) 535-1976.