Spring means baby-making time for many of our avian friends. Lately our neighbor, the Eastern Screech-owl, has made this point saliently for us, calling out from the marsh day and night, as he looks for that special someone. This has been going on for over a week now, with no sign of letting up. In theory, it's a great opportunity to try and locate him and snap some shots while there's still plenty of light out, but so far we haven't been able to find him once we get outside.
However, this led us to quite another, equally welcome, experience. Hearing a tap-tap-tap, I started scanning nearby snags to see what kind of woodpecker was around. Instead, I was delighted to find a pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches. Well, there were two of them at least, but I'm not certain that they actually constituted a pair.
The nuthatches were each excavating a nest cavity in the same tree, just a couple of feet apart from one another. Neither one was defensive about the other, and it seemed that they were collaborating on a common project. This impression may not have been far off -- nearly 1 in 5 pairs of Brown-headed Nuthatches employ a cooperative breeding strategy, typically by enlisting a first-year male. Is that what was happening here? Or maybe it was a paired male and female? Or two competing males, each trying to build the better nest hole?
Here's some video I took that shows how close the two excavations were to each other. If the video seems unsteady, its because mosquitoes were doing to me what the nuthatches were doing to the tree.
We watched for a couple of minutes, trying to gain some insight into what was happening, when a pair of Eastern Bluebirds flew onto the same snag and drove the nuthatches off. Like nuthatches, bluebirds are cavity nesters, although they don't do any excavation of their own. We thought they might have had an eye to claiming one of these nests as their own, now that most of the work had been done for them, but they didn't stay long, and the nuthatches returned after the coast was clear.
The next day, we took another look for the owl (again, with no success). This was also a good opportunity to check on our nuthatches, but we didn't see any activity on the snag. Giving up hope for them, we started wandering off, but heard some more tap-tap-tapping just a few trees over. This time we found two nuthatches whose motives were much clearer, since they were each helping to excavate the same cavity.
So with any luck, we'll have two families of nuthatches to check on this Spring. They're typically so high up in the very tallest pines, that it was excellent getting to watch them go to work closer to where we were. Nuthatches are already so tiny, I can't imagine what a nut-hatchling will look like, but here's hoping that we get to find out!