The bold and adventurous Nuthatch

One of my favourite garden birds is the Nuthatch. Seeing one run face-first down a tree is a marvellous thing!

The adults are always busy-busy – if you have them in your garden, they’ll be the bird most likely to be upside down on your seed, peanut or suet feeders!

They have a black strip across their eyes, like a highwayman’s mask. This and their dagger-like beak gives them an air of mischief.

Blue-grey on their back, wings and top of the head, they are a sort of pinky-brown on their chest, belly and underneath the tail. Below the ‘mask’ are white cheek patches.

Attracted by peanuts,  we’ve seen them munch on suet, sunflower hearts and oats. In the summer Nuthatches traditionally eat insects and other invertebrates, using its dagger-like beak to remove layers of bark and access bugs etc. underneath. 

Could you attract Nuthatches to your garden?

Gardens close to deciduous and semi-deciduous trees or woodland are more likely to be visited by a Nuthatch. Some estimates are that a Nuthatch territory could be up to a hectare, so you never know..

Try putting out peanuts, in a secure feeder.
Young birds can choke on whole peanuts, so make sure your feeder doesn’t have any gaps or breaks in the wire – something you become aware of with Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the garden!

Try a mix of the foods I describe above & see how you do – if you don’t get a Nuthatch, the other birds will love it.
Choose seed mixes without wheat – unless you have lots of pheasants, other birds aren’t interested. Wheat lying about is more likely to attract rats.

Some Nuthatch facts

  1. Apparently they have quite a fascination with mud.
    They’ll plaster mud around the entrance to a nesting spot, to reduce the opening to the required size of roughly 3cm diameter.
    Some people who’ve had nest boxes used by Nuthatches report that not just the entrance but the roof has been cemented on with mud & the box cemented to the tree!
  2. Their name ‘nuthack’ comes from their habit of wedging a nut or acorn into a crevice and ‘hacking’ out the fruit with their sharp beak.
  3. Food-caching behaviour. Nuthatches stash food around their territory, to retrieve later. It’s been noted that leave seed/nuts remain stashed for longer than insects etc.
  4. Nuthatches keep a year-round territory which is unusual in small birds, being more often seen in birds of prey & some members of the crow family.
    Supposedly extremely territorial, Nuthatches are often reported as grumpy & highly territorial, seeing off other birds from feeders*.
  5. Nuthatches are monogamous. The male has been reported shepherding the female about, sometime herding her away if she approaches the boundary of the territory. Dominance is switched at breeding time though. The female builds the nest & the male’s main task is to keep her fed.
  6. Male and female Nuthatches are similar in appearance. Males might show a stronger colour on their flanks than females but this is hard to judge if you only see one!
    The feathers of very young birds are apparently dull compared to adults but this soon changes. The chicks we see are already self-sufficient but there is a wider base to their beak.

The other way we can tell chick from adult is the youngsters are less confident jumping onto a feeder.

See the Nuthatch in action

I’ve been filming the nuthatch chick(s?) I’ve been seeing, showing the change from the first video – daydreaming with a full belly perhaps as can be seen below and on the UK Nature Gifts YouTube Channel.

I’ll be uploading film updates on the Nuthatch this coming week, 20th August.

I hope they make you smile too


*We don’t see the Nuthatches behaving badly to other birds on our feeders, (unlike Goldfinches!)
We wonder if this is because there is plenty of food available – we put out a mixture of food amongst various feeders each day.

As with the change in Chaffinch behaviour, in hanging from suet feeders as well as their traditional ground-feeding, perhaps this has impacted our Nuthatches, making them more relaxed maybe..?

Information from observation in our garden and courtesy of the BTO, learn more or join at: