Winter bird feeding brings countless hours of pleasure to thousands of Iowans statewide. Observing our backyard visitors becomes even more interesting whenever a rare or unusual species makes a surprise appearance. The red-breasted nuthatch is a species that has been filling that bill.

A resident of northern and western mountain pine forests, the red-breasted nuthatch is an energetic, miniature version of the more familiar white-breasted nuthatch.

This year, the species has been sporadically reported at feeders across Northern Iowa. While white-breasted nuthatches are common visitors to virtually every suet and sunflower feeder in the state, the tiny red-breasted is rarely, if ever, seen by most Iowans.

Keep a sharp eye and you may get your chance this winter. If one does happen to pay a visit to one of your backyard feeders, you’re likely to immediately spot the difference.

In addition to its smaller size and hyper demeaner, the red-breasted’s black eye stripe, overall darker plumage and rusty red breast make it readily distinguishable from its larger and more common cousin.

Lowell Washburn is retired from the Iowa DNR. He lives in Clear Lake and is a frequent contributor to the Recreation Page. Enjoy more wildlife tales online at Washburn’s Outdoor Journal at iawildlife.org/blog.

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