The nuthatch

David Chapman

Wildlife writer and photographer, David Chapman, introduces the Nuthatch - the only British bird that can run up, down and around a tree.

This morning, as I returned from feeding our chickens, I heard a nuthatch briefly calling from the trees above our garden. Its high-pitched 'kee-kee' is as distinctive as any British garden bird and, though it is a common bird across most of the country, this is only the third record in fifteen years for our garden, so I raced to the shed to top up the bird feeders in the hope that it might stay to dine with us!

Nuthatches are charismatic birds, they are very small, at only about 13cm long and live entirely in trees which can make them difficult to spot but it is worth making the effort. This is the only British bird that can run up, down and around the trunks and branches of trees. Nuthatches don’t care whether they are upside down, right way up or on their sides; in fact if they have a characteristic posture it is facing downwards on a tree trunk but looking upwards.

The plumage of a nuthatch is attractive; they have a slate grey back, buff belly and rusty under-tail. Its white cheeks and grey head contrast beautifully with a black eye-stripe which extends as far as its shoulder.

If you have a wooded garden it is very possible that you might share it with a pair of nuthatches. They like mature trees where they search for insects in cracks and nest in holes. Fortunately they will accept our help, readily taking to nest boxes which might be intended for tits*. It is fascinating to watch them plastering mud around the entrance to their nests which is something they do to create a snug fit, making sure that nothing larger than themselves can get in.

I have always felt that our garden is suitable for nuthatches but they are rarer in West Cornwall. Over the next few weeks I will put up a nest box in the garden to see if I can encourage one to stay to breed next spring but for now I will keep filling the seed and the peanut feeders to make the garden as appealing as possible.

*Ideal hole diameter for a nuthatch nest box is approximately 32mm.

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