I often get questions from birders concerned about the overall numbers of birds they are seeing at their feeders or concerned about the numbers of a particular species of bird.
The number of birds that we see locally can fluctuate slightly from year to year.
In winter, the availability of local natural food can dictate the numbers of some species. Some years natural crops fail, and birds concentrate in other areas where there is more food.
There is a small group of birds that actually can be common one year then absent the next from an entire region or regions. These are collectively known as “irruptive” species.
An early and large flight of red-breasted nuthatches are here in the North Carolina Piedmont this fall.
There are two types of nuthatches that breed and are common feeders here throughout the year: the white-breasted and the brown-headed nuthatches.
In the East, the red-breasted nuthatch nests far to our north and down the spine of the Appalachians in the highest elevations. It is a Canadian Zone nester.
Some years we might see little or no movement of this species into the Southeast. They will be absent or be in such small numbers that birders might not see them. It certainly looks like this is a good year for them, so be on the lookout at your feeders for this most colorful member of the nuthatch clan.
It is still too early to tell if other irruptive species will appear in large numbers this winter. Birders look forward to the years when irruptives make a strong showing, as well as the arrival of purple finches, pine siskins, and perhaps rarer finches that such years might bring.
Strong weather fronts in late October and November will likely give us a clue about what the winter will bring with respect to these species.