All About Nuthatch - Nuthatch Bird Facts & Information

About Nuthatch Birds 

Scurrying up and down trees in search of food you’ll find the plump bird called a Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) that is about the size of a Great Tit. With a blue-grey top half and a light orange breast - this bird resembles a small Woodpecker but actually belongs to the Sittidae family, alongside its relative the white breasted Nuthatch.

The black eye stripe and white cheeks on the side of its head, its long black bill and short legs are also easily recognisable features of this small bird.

Originally, the Nuthatch species just bred through England and Wales, but in more recent years its breeding range has expanded to Southern Scotland and Northern England.

With a large head for its body, these birds bring a lot of character to any space they are in. On the UK conservation status, the UK's Nuthatch population is green, so it is not a threatened species.

Do Nuthatches Migrate?

Nuthatches are generally non migratory birds. They tend to stay in the same general area throughout the year, especially when there is an abundance of food for them.

However, there can be some local movements or short distance migrations, particularly in response to changes in food availability or weather conditions.

Where do Nuthatches live?

Found across England and Wales, these plump woodland species of birds are mostly fond of broad leaved, mixed woodland with large, old trees and ample space in tree crevices for nesting and foraging for food. 

With urbanisation across the UK, they will also live in gardens and parks with trees for them to nest and forage in. The Nuthatches signature move is climbing head first down tree trunks to find food - so anywhere they do live you can guarantee there will be trees. 

How long do Nuthatches live?

In the wild, the average lifespan of the Nuthatch is two to three years although there have been some recordings of these birds living until they are 10!

Nuthatches Breeding Season 

In the late winter to early spring, Nuthatches begin to form pairs through vocalisations, displays and mutual grooming. The males will sing to attract females and establish territories - females will respond to the calls and perform submissive displays. 

Once they have formed a bond, the Nuthatches nest - they’ll look for tree holes in large, soft and decaying mature woods. If you have a nest box in your garden, you may also see this bird utilising it if natural nesting spots are scarce. The male and the female will line the nest cavity with soft materials like fur and feathers to make a comfortable nesting space to raise their young and then the Nuthatches breed.

In late April, these birds will lay five to nine eggs and alone, the female will incubate the eggs for around two weeks - the male will work hard to bring her food during this time.

Once the chicks have hatched, both parents feed and care for them - the young birds eat mostly insects, seeds and nuts. The little Nuthatches grow rapidly and the parents have to work tirelessly to meet the feeding needs of the young birds. 

After a busy 18 to 24 days, the nestlings will fledge from the nest - they are not fully independent straight away and will rely on the parents for a little while. During this time, the parents will feed and teach the young chicks skills to survive. 

What do Nuthatches Eat?

Primarily an insectivore, the Nuthatches mainly eat insects and other invertebrates. Their diet does vary and includes seeds, nuts and small fruits. 

From caterpillars to ants, and even insect eggs, these birds will eat any insect and are experts at searching under bark, in crevices and among foliage for their favourite snack. Their long, black and strong bills are well suited for extracting these insects. 

Nuthatches consume seeds and nuts - and can crack open these seeds with their strong bill to get to the good, nutritious centre. They love sunflower seeds, acorns, hazelnuts and beechnuts. 

In the wild, Nuthatches are known for caching food. If there are ever periods of abundance, these birds may collect extra food items from bird tables or feeders and hide them in tree bark for later consumption. This helps them sustain themselves during harsh weather conditions. 

Nuthatches Predators 

In the wild, the Nuthatches faces many predators that threaten their chance of survival. 

One big threat to these small birds is birds of prey - when Nuthatches are nesting or foraging they are vulnerable, and birds of prey take advantage of this and perform aerial attacks. 

Domestic cats and Squirrels in urban areas are also a threat to these birds. They may prey on eggs, nestlings or even adult birds if they get the opportunity. 

How to Attract Nuthatches into Your Garden

Nuthatches are attracted to areas with ample tree cover, especially from mature trees. If your garden lacks this kind of coverage and you are happy to get your gardening gloves on, plant native tree species like oaks or maples - not only do these provide cover, they are also an essential source for food and nesting. 

Artificial nest boxes will bring these birds into your garden, especially when natural nest spaces are scarce. 

Food is the key to keeping birds coming back into your outside space. Offer food on a bird feeder or bird table, and pick out food that these birds love. Nuthatches are particularly fond of nuts, seeds and suet

Like most other UK birds, Nuthatches are a huge fan of bird baths or a fresh source of water. The Nuthatches, and other birds, use this to clean themselves and drink from. 

This small bird is sensitive to disturbances, so try and create a quiet environment to encourage their presence in your garden. 

Do Nuthatches Come to Bird Tables?

Nuthatches are known for visiting bird tables - in fact, they have been seen taking seeds like sunflower hearts from the bird table and storing it for future use.

Five Facts about Nuthatches  

  1. Nuthatches are unique among British birds for their ability to climb down tree trunks headfirst, unlike other birds which usually climb up. Their powerful legs and strong claws allow them to move easily in this manner. This behaviour helps them locate insects and seeds hidden in the bark.

  2. Nuthatches are quite vocal birds and have distinct calls. They often produce a loud "yank yank" sound that can be heard echoing through woodlands. This vocalisation serves not only to communicate with other Nuthatches but also to establish territories and attract mates.

  3. During autumn, Nuthatches are known to store food and hide them in crevices in tree bark or even bury them in the ground for later consumption. They have an exceptional memory and can remember the locations of hundreds of these hidden food caches, which they rely on during harsher weather conditions when food is scarce.

  4. Nuthatches are typically monogamous birds, forming long lasting pairs. They often engage in elaborate courtship displays, which include mutual feeding and chasing each other through the trees. Once paired, they work together to defend their territory and raise their young.

  5. These resilient birds are well adapted to surviving harsh winter conditions. Their compact bodies and thick plumage provide insulation against the cold, while their habit of storing food helps them endure periods of scarcity. They're also known to join mixed species flocks during winter, which provides safety in numbers and additional opportunities for finding food.