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This Week’s Creature Feature: Brown-Headed Nuthatch

Is it a bird — or a squeaky dog toy?

      A brown-headed nuthatch is a small bird whose cute little squeaky voice sounds exactly like a dog toy. Really. These nuthatches form small flocks in the pine forests along the East Coast from Florida to Delaware. I had my first encounter with the little birds while following the Hummock Trail at Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center. A flock of them surrounded me. It was spring, and they were loudly making romantic displays. I stood very still trying to take a photo of one when another one landed next to my ear and started squeaking. I laughed and missed the shot.
      I have also found them at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and at the east end of the Cross Island Trail on Kent Island. The common characteristic in those locations is the dominant presence of tall old loblolly pines.
     Maryland has three types of nuthatch: white-breasted, brown-headed and red-breasted. The first two nest here; the last is a common winter visitor. They get their name because of the way they wedge a nut into tree bark to break it apart to eat. They are also one of the few birds that frequently walk head-first down tree trunks.
      Visit Cornell Ornithology’s All About Birds (www.allaboutbirds.org) and listen to the brown-headed nuthatch’s silly sounds.