The small bird in the above photo, with the gray back and wings, white underparts and brown head and nape, is a brown-headed nuthatch. The nuthatch is pausing between bouts of vigorous pounding away (below) at the trunk of a black willow in our Wetlands.
Another nuthatch was working these willows at the same time last year. Last year’s pounding resulted in a cavity where a pair nested some twenty feet from the trees this bird now works. It could very well have been the same bird, it’s difficult to say.
I’ll be watching this site closely in the next few weeks. It’s near the shoreline and may yield some interesting photographs. Brown-headed nuthatches are one of three species you might encounter in our area in winter. They are, as are the larger white-breasted nuthatches, year round residents. Brown-headed nuthatches are birds of mature pine forests of the southeast. White-breasted nuthatches (below), also forest birds, are more general in their choice of habitat of mixed deciduous forest and edges.
The third species of nuthatch we see here in the piedmont is the red-breasted nuthatch (below), though only as a winter visitor. At that, it’s not a regular visitor, being seen only in certain years. Its appearances may have to do with the availability of food (or lack thereof) in their typical habitat of northern or montane coniferous, spruce, fir, and hemlock forest.
Red-breasted nuthatches do, however, nest in our mountains, typically above the 4000 foot mark where the aforementioned habitat occurs.