The Nuthatch is often seen zig-zagging its way up and down tree trunks. These territorial birds are a common sight and sound in well-wooded areas.
Nuthatch it its natural habitat
Close up of a Eurasian Nuthatch
Recently fledged young Nuthatch chick
Eurasian nuthatch, Wood nuthatch
12cm to 17cm
22cm to 27cm
20g to 25g
The Nuthatch is a small, solidly built bird with a bold mask and attractive colours. Read this section for more identification tips.
The Nuthatch is a small bird with short legs and a fairly long, straight bill. These birds are grey-blue above and chestnut brown below. A bold black mask is visible from the base of their bill, through their eye, and to their shoulder. A white cheek patch is visible below this prominent marking.
Female Nuthatches are difficult to distinguish from males, although careful observation may reveal a brown (not black) stripe on their face and slightly paler plumage above and below. Juvenile birds are very similar to adult females but have duller plumage.
There is only one species of Nuthatch in the UK. These birds resemble Woodpeckers as they clamber about on trees. However, they are easily distinguished by their short tails and grey and chestnut plumage.
Close up of a Eurasian Nuthatch
Nuthatches are small birds, slightly larger than a Robin.
Nuthatches in the UK have a body length of 12 to 17 centimetres.
Most female Nuthatches weigh 20 to 24 grams. Males are slightly heavier, although the difference is unnoticeable in the field.
Adult Nuthatches have a wingspan of 22 to 27 centimetres, and males have slightly longer wings.
Nuthatches are highly vocal little birds, frequently producing loud whistling and piping songs and calls.
The Nuthatch’s song is rather variable in speed and length. It consists of repeated whistled ‘wee-wee-wee’ notes. These birds also call frequently to maintain contact or express alarm and excitement.
Shaun Micklewright, XC624865. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/624865.
These birds have a varied diet and some clever ways of accessing and storing food. Continue reading to learn more about the Nuthatch’s diet.
Nuthatches are primarily insectivorous, preferring caterpillars, beetles and other insects found on the trunks and branches of trees. Acorns, nuts, beech mast, and seeds become increasingly important in the winter when invertebrates are less abundant.
The Nuthatch has a clever way of cracking tough nuts. It wedges them into small crevices and then pecks at them to gain access. They also store excess food in cracks and crevices for leaner times.
Baby Nuthatches eat insects supplied by their parents. The young birds will be fed by their parents for up to two weeks after fledging the nest.
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 is Widespread in the UK and elsewhere in Europe and Asia. Keep reading to learn about their favourite habitats and where to look for these active little birds.
Nuthatches are most abundant in deciduous woodlands, although they are also common in gardens, parks, and other wooded areas.
Nuthatches are widespread in England and Wales, extending only into the South of Scotland. They are absent from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the Fenlands and extensive arable farmlands in the northeast of England.
Elsewhere the Nuthatch is widespread in Europe and ranges across Asia to Japan. There is also a population in Northwest Africa.
Nuthatches spend their entire lives in territories of about one to ten hectares (2.5 - 25 acres). They spend most of their time in trees, although they occasionally descend to the ground to forage, especially in the colder months.
Nuthatches are most abundant in deciduous woodlands
The Nuthatch is a common bird in the UK. They may have been more numerous when woodlands were more widespread, although they have adapted well to suburban areas, and their populations have increased significantly in the last few decades.
Birdwatchers can spot Nuthatches in well-wooded areas in England, Wales, and the south of Scotland. Look out for them clambering on the trunks and branches of mature trees. These birds often turn up at garden bird feeders, particularly in the winter.
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 have an average lifespan of about two years, although they can live for over twelve years in exceptional circumstances.
The Sparrowhawk is the greatest threat to adult Nuthatches by day, although they are also vulnerable to nocturnal hunters like the Tawny Owl. Their eggs and chicks are well-protected within their nests but may fall prey to birds like the Great-spotted Woodpecker.
Nuthatches enjoy the protection of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 in the United Kingdom.
Nuthatches are not endangered in the UK. They have a green conservation status, and their populations are expanding northwards, possibly due to climate change and the support of garden bird feeders.
Nuthatch, also known as the Wood Nuthatch in its 'classic' pose
Nuthatches usually lay their eggs in March, and pairs have a single brood in the breeding season.
Nuthatches are cavity nesters that use natural tree holes, particularly in larger deciduous trees. They will also use small nest boxes and can be encouraged to nest in your garden by providing such a space. They often line the entrance with mud to create a passage of just the right size.
Nuthatch eggs are white with reddish-brown markings. They lay large clutches, usually of six to eight eggs. Each egg measures approximately 20 millimetres long and 14 millimetres wide.
Nuthatch pairs remain in their nesting territories throughout the year and generally pair for life. However, genetic studies have shown that they occasionally stray and mate with neighbouring birds.
Nuthatch nest in tree, feeding young chicks
The Nuthatch has a big personality, which is especially evident in its interactions with other birds around a food source.
Nuthatches can be rather aggressive and will dominate other birds at feeders. They are also territorial towards other Nuthatches and will chase intruders from their territory if warning calls and displays aren’t effective.
Nuthatches sleep in holes in trees and other cavities. They will also roost in artificial nest boxes.
Nuthatch foraging for food in the woodlands
Nuthatches can be seen throughout the year in the United Kingdom. Adults are highly sedentary, although juveniles must disperse from their natal area to claim their own territories.
Nuthatches are native to the United Kingdom, although their population has expanded into previously unoccupied areas of Scotland.
Nuthatch at a bird feeder, eating nuts
Nuthatches are not the most common garden birds in the UK, but they are often attracted to offerings of peanuts and sunflower seeds.
They may visit a bird table, but they will also happily cling to hanging mesh feeders or eat fat or peanut butter smeared on a tree trunk. Adding a shallow birdbath and a purpose-made nest box can also improve your chances of attracting these birds.
Nuthatches can be decidedly unfriendly towards other birds, particularly at bird feeders. They are also quick to fight with neighbouring Nuthatches.
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