Bandit-like black eye stripes on large head, glimpsed as it scurries up and down a tree trunk.
The nuthatch is a plump bird with a short tail. It has a large head with a characteristic black stripe across the eye and cheek, and a long, powerful bill that is greyish-black. Cheeks and throat are white. Adult upperparts are all blue-grey. Underparts are orange-buff merging into orange, with chestnut markings on flanks and white under-tail coverts. Outer tail feathers are black with white spots. The nuthatch has long, yellowish-brown legs with very long toes and short but very sharp claws, well-adapted for gripping bark. Males and females are similar but females are drabber. The juvenile is similar to the adult, but duller below.
Close up of a Eurasian Nuthatch
The nuthatch has a rich repertoire of loud calls. Its call is a loud ‘chwit-chwit’. Its song is a rapid ‘chu-chu-chu’ and a slow ‘pee-pee-pee’.
The nuthatch is a fast and agile tree-climber that can run up and down a trunk. Its name refers to its habit of wedging nuts in crevices and cracking them open with its strong bill. It also eats insects, grubs and oily seeds. It stores food in the winter the same way tits do.
Eurasian Nuthatch with food
The nuthatch is the only bird in Europe that can move head first down a tree-trunk in search of food.
The nuthatch’s habitat is broad-leaved and mixed woods, open parkland and avenues of older trees. In Britain, it is resident and widespread, and best looked for in mature woods and established parkland throughout England and Wales. It is rarer in Scotland, although there are occasional sightings of them there. It can be seen all year round.
Eurasian Nuthatch in flight
The nuthatch can be mistaken for a small woodpecker as it runs up and down tree trunks. Its ringing blows resounding from the tops of trees can alert an observer to its presence. Nuthatches are generally tolerant of humans and will regularly visit bird tables in the winter, where they will cause chaos scattering seed everywhere and scaring off other birds. The bird’s flight is straight over short distances on short, rounded wings, and slightly undulating over longer distances. Its silhouette is distinctive with no neck, large head and long bill.
Nuthatches are monogamous and live in the same territory throughout the year. They will nest in a hole in a tree, with a chamber of pine-bark flakes. If the tree hole entrance is too big, the bird may use mud to plaster an entrance that it finds of acceptable size. The female will lay a clutch of 6-8 white eggs with red or yellow markings. These are incubated for 13-17 days. The pair will raise 1 brood a year.
Nuthatch nest in tree, feeding young
The average lifespan for a nuthatch is anywhere between 2 and 3 and a half years, but they can live up to 10 years.
Nuthatches are a resident species and most juveniles settle within about 6 miles of where they were born.
The UK has a breeding population of 220,000 territories, and the species’ conservation status is Green.