The Nuthatch — Our Guide

Posted by Garden Crowd on

We count ourselves pretty lucky to have the company of Nuthatches visiting our bird feeder. I remember the first encounter with them. We had just put up our garden feeder and along came our first Nuthatch. I had never seen one before and was unsure about what type of bird he was! 

Luckily for us, they have become a permanent feature at our bird table and I spend many a happy hour watching their acrobatic, up-side down and rather suave feeding stance that they so effortlessly ooze. 

Where do they live?

They tend to stick to woodland areas and enjoy the same area from which they hatched for many years. It is rare that Nuthatches appear if you have never had them before. Although they do rove around with different tit flocks.

What do they look like?

Nuthatches are quite like wood-peckers, but a lot smaller. They look a bit like anemic Kingfishers and they have a gorgeous striking black line through their eye with a fantastic long thin bill. 

They have a beautiful grey-blue top and underneath, they are chestnut coloured. The female is a little paler in colour, a more yellow-white — but she still looks pretty beautiful. 

They always look immaculate, maybe it is just our birds. Every time one of them frequents our feeder it’s like they have dressed up for the occasion, not a feather out of place. 

Nuthatches are status green in the UK, they are residents in most areas of England and now there have been a few sightings in the Southern parts of Scotland. 

How do they behave?

They have great personalities, we’ve noticed a difference between our three on the feeder. They always like to make sure they are the only ones eating, hardly ever will you find another bird sharing the same space as Norman, Nelly or Noddy!

Nuthatches can move up and down tree trunks. They appear similar in shape to the tree creeper — but unlike this upward movements, nuthatches have mastered going both ways!

What do they eat?

Nuthatches are omnivorous, eating mostly insects, nuts and seeds. They forage for insects hidden in or under bark by climbing along tree trunks and branches, sometimes upside down, very much like the Woodpecker.

At the feeder, they tend to sift out the food from the dish they don’t want, choosing prime black sunflower seeds or a range of nuts. They love mealworms and mealworm suet! As well as all this they are partial to a range of various seeds and seem to love seed mixes with Sunflower Hearts in them!

Key Facts

  1. The name Nuthatch comes from the Nut Hacker — they love to take nuts, jam them in to a tree trunk or crevice and cracker them open. We enjoy wedging hazelnuts or Brazil nuts in to the trees outside and watching them break into the shells. If you have nuthatches, it is well worth doing as it makes for a fun afternoon watching them!
  2. Nuthatches nest in cavities in trees. They like nests previously owned by Woodpeckers, but always use mud to seal up the entrance for a smaller size. Male nuthatches spend quite a bit of time creating nests and will keep making them until the female is happy and chooses one! You might see them darting about from March onwards creating these elaborate homes. 
  3. There are four species of nuthatches in North America: the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch and White-breasted Nuthatch. Nearly wherever you are in the United States, you’ll be able to find a nuthatch.
  4. Brown-headed Nuthatches are one of the few birds known to use a tool to help them find food. They’ll consistently use a piece of bark to help pry open other pieces of bark to search for insects.
  5. They forage within their territories when breeding, but they may join mixed feeding flocks at other times.
  6. They stay in their breeding pairs throughout the year and fiercely defend their territories. Whilst eating they store a lot of food within these territories, making them even more important to keep. You might spot the odd sunflower popping up somewhere unexpected in the garden — this will be down to a nuthatch storing some seeds!  
  7. Nuthatches are monogamous. The female produces eggs that are white with red or yellow markings; the clutch size varies, tending to be larger for northern species. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 18 days by the female alone, or by both parents and both parents feed their young. 
  8. The fledglings start appearing from April onwards, depending on the weather. They look much like their parents, but a bit paler underneath and slightly fluffier! 

The Nuthatches are those unmistakable birds that are pretty hard to find, but if you live in a woodland area and keep up your nut and seeds on the bird feeder you might just get lucky! 


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