Date: 7/4/18 2:18 pm
From: Chris Elphick via CTBirds <ctbirds...>
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] C Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pileateds, Coyote pups
Hi Gina,
Your question about red-breasted nuthatches is an excellent one because it relates to a couple of issues that I think can be confusing.  The answer is a bit complex, so I'll try not to add to the confusion.

First some key background information.  The S code implies singing, and it's important to recognize that not all bird sounds are song (more on this below).  Song is generally used for breeding related behaviors, and that's the rationale for using it as an indicator of possible breeding.  The S7 code is not an official atlas code, but it is used by eBird.  The rationale behind it is that if a bird has been singing in the same place for at least a week then it is probably on territory.  In that situation many atlases, including ours, would just use the T breeding code, which encompasses a wider range of behaviours that indicate territoriality.  (Atlasers who have been using S7 in eBird should not worry that it's not an official code for the CT atlas, as it is easy for us to convert all those S7s to Ts).  So, if your bird was heard singing in the same spot on two days at least a week apart, it would be reasonable to assume it is on territory and that you can use the S7 (or T) code. 

But, here's the rub.  The typical "yank yank" call of a red-breasted nuthatch is not its song, and is not necessarily associated with breeding.  We know that it's not linked to breeding because the vocalization is given year-round, in lot of different non-breeding contexts.  So, the answer to your questions depends on whether you simply heard the well-known "yank yank" call, or if you actually heard the species' song (Courtship song is described by the BNA account as: "Repeated series of plaintive, nasal waa-aa-ns. May be 2–6 notes in a series, with 12–16 series sung/min, and may be repeated in very rapid succession, or delivered in slow deliberate measure.")  Or, one of the other vocalizations that are associated with breeding. If you did not hear actual song, and saw no other breeding behaviours, then the correct code would simply be H to indicate that the species was found in appropriate nesting habitat.

This all begs the broader question of how do you know if a vocalization is actually a "song".  The rule of thumb I use is based on whether the vocalization is used primarily during the breeding season (i.e., for attracting a female or defending a territory).  If the answer is yes, then S, S7, M, or T are all potentially suitable codes.  If not, then those codes should not be used. 

For what it is worth, during the 1980s atlas, there was one confirmed breeding record for rb-nut on the coast, so it is not impossible that they breed in your block.

I hope this helps,
Chris Chris Elphick @ssts
Storrs, CT

This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA) for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.
For subscription information visit
Join us on Facebook!