Posted by: atowhee | June 1, 2020


Fellow birder Dick Ashford of Ashland (no relation) sent me this short note on his recent encounter with Red-breasted Nuthatches: “Some bird behavior from two days ago: I was on Mt. Ashland near the campground, watching a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches frenetically feeding by flycatching (thought you’d appreciate the alliteration). It was pretty interesting just to see them hawking insects as opposed to gleaning, AND THEN one counted coup and picked a bug from my shirt! Cool. Very cool…”

A few years back I was leading a bird trip  in spring on Mt. Ashland.  We heard, then saw, a Red-breasted Nuthatch in and out of a white spruce at about 6500 feet.  The bird would not give us a good look.  Knowing they are cavity nesters and there were no cowbirds likely, I played the nuthatch’s honking call.

I turned my back to the tree and spoke to the birders about nuthatch behavior.  The other birders began to giggle.  I felt a slight bump on my hat.  Three times as we stood there the male Red-breasted Nuthatch flew out from the trunk about ten feet away and hit me on the hat.  It is the first and only time I have been deliberately hit by a vertebrate that small.  Later we moved back and surrounded the tree, finally concluding that his mate was on eggs in a hole in the trunk about ten feet up.  The male was defending against our intrusion and our sounding off.



  1. Thanks Harry. If the nuthatch is the smallest , “hit by a vertebrate that small.” What is the largest vertebrate to hit you deliberately?

    • cows…I had to milk cows twice per day as I grew up…tail in the eye while i was seated was most common, but I have been butted into the cow pies, stepped on even barefooted and shouldered aside by a cantankerous milk cow more times than I care to count…never been stepped on by elephant or bison…yet

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