The nuthatch (Sitta europaea) is a woodland species which can be seen scurrying up and down tree trunks. It is a pretty blue-grey bird with an orange breast, chestnut sides and chestnut feathers beneath its tail. It has a black stripe on its head running across its eyes and boasts a plump appearance. The nuthatch benefits from a strong bill which it needs for removing bark to retrieve food. It is larger than a robin and smaller than a starling. The nuthatch measures roughly 14cm in length. Its wingspan is around 27cm.
The nuthatch’s song consists of a rapid series of piping notes and is very loud. The most common sound is “chit chit chit chit”. However, nuthatches are usually silent while nesting.
What is the nuthatch’s distribution and population?
Nuthatches are found throughout England, Wales, southern Scotland. The UK’s nuthatch population is now prospering and has grown by an estimated 250% since the 1970s. The reason for the population growth is not yet understood. However, it is known that the nuthatch is expanding its range in Scotland due to the milder winters caused by climate change.
There are around 220, 000 breeding pairs in the UK and the birds remain here throughout the year, rarely straying far from where they have hatched. Tree felling remains a threat to this species and further research is required to establish why nuthatches are currently prospering. One of the reasons suggested is the prevalence of garden feeders around the country.
What do nuthatches eat?
Nuthatches favour invertebrates which they pluck from tree trunks and branches. In the winter months they will feed on nuts and seeds. They conceal surplus nuts in tree bark so that they can retrieve them when food is in scarce supply and use their bills to hammer them open. It is this behaviour which is thought to have inspired the term nut hacker from which the species’ name is derived.
Nuthatches are increasingly visiting gardens to seek out nuts and seeds. If you would like to see them in your own garden, fill your feeders with mixed seed, sunflower hearts or peanuts.
Where do nuthatches nest?
Nuthatches normally choose to nest in tree cavities, often occupying old woodpecker holes. They typically lay six to eight eggs, with the chicks hatching after around fourteen days. Fledging normally occurs after three to four weeks and both parents will feed their young. These birds will also nest in walls and restrict the size of the holes by lining them with mud. They use bark chips and dead leaves to create the nests. Nuthatches will utilise nesting boxes with holes of approximately 35mm and will plaster the holes with mud even when they are the right size.
Did you know?
- The average distance travelled by an adult nuthatch is less than one kilometre.
- The nuthatch has never been recorded in Ireland.
- The favourite nesting site of the nuthatch is the old nest hole of a great spotted woodpecker.