Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches

Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis
Carolina Chickadees can be found year-round throughout the county, and although they breed in many locations they can often be missed in regular locations at certain times of year. The peak time to observe them is between mid September and mid October, suggesting either post-breeding dispersal or some fall migration or movement, as there is not an appreciable difference in the number of reported observations that time of year (in fact there are less field reports / eBird checklists than in spring). The earliest recorded nesting date is from 27 April 1930 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Chickadees are fairly reliable coastally along Big Talbot and Little Talbot Island State Park, Fort George Island, and Hanna Park. They are also regular at places like Taye Brown Regional Park, Sheffield Regional Park, and Reddie Point Preserve.

Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Tufted Titmouse is a year round, resident breeding species, and is extremely abundant in virtually every corner of the county. As with the Carolina Chickadee, Titmouse abundance and frequency inexplicably peaks from mid September through October. There are high concentrations of them at places like Fort George Island, Cedar Point Preserve, and Reddie Point Preserve. Stevenson and Anderson (1994) noted a nest raided of its eggs as early as 13 May 1934.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Red-breasted Nuthatch is a species only likely to be found during irruption years, as they were throughout the county in the winter of 2012-2013. Otherwise, there are just four or five known prior documented reports, two of which come from Fort George Island. The earliest report is from 24 April 1966 at Goodbys Lake, another comes from the 1967 Christmas Bird Count, and the 1968 CBC reported an unprecedented 19 birds. The next report followed on 28 December 1985 on Black Hammock Island by Roger Clark, who also observed single individuals on 3 Nov 2005 at Kingsley Plantation and on 11 Nov 2008 at his residential feeders.

Ogden (1991) noted that one reported from south Jacksonville on 10 January 1991 was the only in the entire state that winter, as was the case with one reported 2 November 1997 (Wamer, 1998). A single bird was then reported 7 April 1998 (Pranty, 1998); that bird apparently wintered at Noel Wamer’s home beginning 10 January that year (Rowan, 1998).

During the last winter irruption in 2012-2013, reliable places to find them were about 1/2 mile from the gate at Kingsley Plantation, Little Talbot Island State Park, and the Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park parking lot. Recent reports include one from 19 November 2016, where two were observed in the Cary State Forest on Jacksonville’s west side, and another on 27 October 208 from Huguenot Memorial Park. I recall finding the one at Huguenot in the paved parking lot along the family beach area; I was out that morning taking pictures with my cousin Tom when we happened upon the bird.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Huguenot Memorial Park. 27 Oct 2018.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
White-breasted Nuthatch is one of several species that used to breed in Duval County and has since been extirpated. As early as 17 April 1930 two adults were noted as feeding young; subsequent breeding records include 2-27 March 1931 where a nest with five eggs was observed. Grimes and Shannon collected the eggs as specimens  (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Four individuals were reported by Grimes on the 1930 Christmas Bird Count, and he reported five on the 1943 CBC (26 December). The species also made appearances on the 1944, 1949, 1961, 1969, 1974, and 1979 CBCs. Since 1979, there have been several unconfirmed reports in the county, but no verifiable records. The reported observations have come from Kingsley Plantation (heard only), Hanna Park, Little Talbot Island State Park’s campground, and Julington-Durbin Preserve. The most recent reports are from 19-21 February at Little Talbot; other observations are all from 27 April through 25 May, scattered across various years.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Sitta pusilla
Brown-headed Nuthatch are a localized breeding species that is fairly evenly spaced throughout the county, although they are scarce in coastal locations with no reliable habitat east of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). They do occur just west of the ICW off San Pablo Road around the William Davis Parkway area. More reliable and accessible locations include Branan Field Wildlife and Environmental Area, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, Julington-Durbin Creek Preserve, Taye Brown Regional Park, and Seaton Creek Historic Preserve (usually right in the parking area). The species is obviously dependent on pine forest, and all those locations afford plenty of suitable habitat.

Historically, Brown-headed Nuthatch was first noted as a breeding species on 5 March 1930, when a nest with five eggs was observed. The following year, breeding behavior and nest excavation was noted as early as 20 February 1931 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

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