The nuthatch is a rotund bird (about the size of a great tit) with distinctive blue-grey wings, head and tail. They have a conspicuous black eye stripe and a stout, powerful bill. The cheeks and chin are white. The underparts are paler, though adult males have a rusty red-brown colour on the flanks, which is less vivid in females.
The nuthatch frequents garden bird feeders and typically feeds hanging up-side down. It can also be seen climbing down tree trunks head-first using its long claws (like crampons) to do so. The nuthatch’s call can be heard in winter, usually with a loud, sharp dwip normally repeated twice, sometimes more often if excited. It has a shrill sirrrr or tsi-si-si alarm call. The adults are highly territorial and will drive off other birds from feeders.
Nuthatch frequent dense mature deciduous woodlands and are sometimes referred to as wood nuthatch. They feed on insects and other invertebrates, plus seeds and nuts during the winter. A characteristic of all nuthatch species is that they appear to store food in tree crevices, in the ground or behind bark flakes. These caches are remembered for as long as 30 days.
- Length 12-14.5cm
- Wingspan 22-27 cm
- Weight: 20-28g
- Average Lifespan: 2-3.5 years
Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Interestingly, the nuthatch only colonised Scotland in the 1980’s, first breeding in Borders in 1989. The population rapidly expanded in the 1990’s, to include Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire later in the 2000’s. Populations are typically sedentary, with only limited dispersal, so it is thought that the juveniles disperse further and are thus largely responsible for nuthatch occupying new areas in Scotland. Sightings have now been reported in Argyll, central and northern areas. With a conservative estimate of 2-3 young surviving into winter, milder winters and a reliable source of winter food, it is thought that the Scottish population could double itself every two years.
When to see
Throughout the year
- The word nuthatch comes from the original Middle English ‘nuthak’ which literally means nut hacker. This term refers to the way nuthatches wedge a nut into crevices of a tree and then hammer away at it with their bills to get to the kernel.
- Nuthatches tend to plaster mud around the entrance hole to a nest box or cavity to prevent predators entering. This habit is often taken to extremes, resulting in the adults struggling to enter their own nest.