CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Derbyshire Life today CLICK HERE

Wildlife - The Nuthatch

PUBLISHED: 09:48 26 January 2015 | UPDATED: 09:48 26 January 2015

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Paul Hobson photographer's copyright

Paul Hobson investigates an endearing woodland bird that visits our gardens in winter

Nuthatch in flightNuthatch in flight

One of my greatest pleasures when I work with woodland birds photographically is that I often get to know individuals, and from such close observation find out about their character.

Perhaps because of their size some birds, coal tits for example, are right at the bottom of the pecking order. However, they compensate for this by being fleet of wing and what we would call ‘cheeky’. From their point of view it’s a case of ‘needs must’ when they whizz in under the beaks of more dominant cousins like the great tits to snatch a sunflower seed from the bird table. Robins are always pugnacious and like nothing better than to get stuck into a skirmish either with another robin or an innocent finch. Sometimes these hold their own ground and lean forward, bill held open threateningly until the robin backs down.

As the winter progresses the behaviour of all birds changes as natural food larders run down and the bird table becomes the focus of life-giving energy foods. Starvation is a powerful motivating force to run the gauntlet of the robin that thinks the table is solely for its own use.

One bird that often visits bird tables in Derbyshire, especially since many of us now use black sunflower seeds, is the nuthatch. These are incredibly attractive small birds bursting with character and attitude. Nuthatches are found in woodland in Derbyshire throughout the year but we tend to notice them most in winter when they start to work the bird tables in their home range. If the season is particularly harsh they will band together with gypsy groups of roving tits and venture further from the woods.

no captionno caption

During the rest of the year they are still working hard in many woodlands but we tend not to notice them unless we learn their very loud, boyish whistle, which when heard is easy to remember. Then you start to realise just how widespread they are. Nuthatches or as they were called in days past, nutjobber or nuthacks, are well named. The clue is clear, nuts because they have a special liking for those tasty kernels. In a truly wild situation they will feast on beech mast in good years (something I used to do as a boy), and native hazel nuts. They can also winkle out the paper thin seeds from fir cones.

Today they are intelligent birds that quickly find bird tables laden with sunflower seeds. At the bird table they have a distinctive style of their own. They often don’t actually feed at the table but fly in with a speedy undulating flight, rapidly cram as many sunflower seeds as they can down their gullet, and leave as quickly as they arrived. They often tend to get into a pattern and will return very quickly for up to ten or 20 visits. The time interval between these can be so short it begs the question, just how fast can they extract the sunflower kernel from the seed and eat it? The answer is simple, they aren’t eating them but storing them up somewhere else, to eat at a later time.

It’s a clever strategy, to make hay while the sun shines, but I often play a few tricks on them so that they will stay longer. I set up branches with splits in them and cram either sunflower seeds or hazel nuts in. It does not take long before they find them and hammer the tasty kernel out. Hazel nuts clearly take longer! When they fly to a branch they often stop for a quick glance around then in short bursts run down it in a manner very similar to a woodpecker’s – though they only run up branches.

During the nesting season nuthatches have a unique way of reducing predation of their chicks from larger nest robbers like grey squirrels or woodpeckers. They cement up their hole, just leaving a gap big enough to enter. This means they can use natural holes where branches have dropped that would normally be unsuitable. They can’t drill their own holes like woodpeckers. I read once that one pair of nuthatches nested in the side of a hayrick and used so much clay surrounding the nest that it weighed 5kg!

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) in winterNuthatch (Sitta europaea) in winter

There is only one species in the nuthatch family in Britain though in Europe there are a couple of other ones – the rock nuthatch and Kruper’s nuthatch. The latter was named after the German naturalist Dr Kruper. There is a tenuous link with Derbyshire here in that Henry Seebohm, a Sheffield steel manufacturer, visited Dr Kruper in the 1880s in Turkey where he then lived. Seebohm went on to become one of the most important ornithologists in Britain and he cut a lot of his birding teeth in Derbyshire during the 1860s and 70s.

Nuthatches are stunning little birds with bags of appeal. They are easy to get to bird tables in winter if you live near woodlands, particularly if you stock up with black sunflower seeds. If you want to get them to hang around longer and give you hours of fun, try wedging a series of hazel nuts into cracks in the trees in your garden. If you don’t have any trees, try using a large fallen branch and propping it upright. It’s well worth the effort.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Derbyshire Life and Countryside visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Derbyshire Life and Countryside staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Derbyshire Life and Countryside account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

A ten-minute drive from the western edge of Sheffield brings thrill-seekers to a Derbyshire valley where outdoor activities are thriving.

Read more

Andrew Griffiths meets Jim Dixon, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Peak District National Park.

Read more

This walk offers a dance with the Dove and a meander by the Manifold, whilst along the way passing a church, castle remains, country houses and a hollow way

Read more

With winter on the horizon, trees glow with colour, migratory birds arrive and house spiders set off in search of a mate

Read more

Ann Hodgkin investigates a case of the sincerest form of flattery… or industrial espionage!

Read more

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s vision is of landscapes rich in wildlife, valued by everyone. They will achieve this 
by pursuing their mission of creating Living Landscapes. Here Julia Gow, the White Peak Reserve Officer at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust tells us about the reserve above the River Wye

Read more

Nigel Powlson visits Sudbury where a shopping courtyard is attracting even more visitors to this quintessential English village

Read more

If you’re walking in the Peak District, the chances are that you could encounter a reservoir at some point during your ramble. There are dozens of resevoirs dotted around all corners of the national park, we pick some of our favourite walks from our archive.

Read more
Peak District

A five-year Heritage Lottery-funded scheme, launched in 2010, was designed to encourage the restoration and conservation of the distinctive landscape character of a large area of north-east Derbyshire.

Read more

Enjoy the wonder of woodland in our glorious Derwent Valley on this park and ride special.

Read more

Paul Hobson reveals some of the fascinating wildlife there is to be found in this month of transition

Read more

From far away constellations to gas clouds, our night skies are bursting with natural wonders – if you know where to look... Viv Micklefield goes stargazing in Derbyshire

Read more

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust works across six Living Landscapes with 46 nature reserves to ensure there is wildlife and wild places for everyone. Reserve officer Sam Willis tells us about one of his favourite places – Ladybower Wood Nature Reserve

Read more

A multi-million pound makeover attracts more leading brands to one of the UK’s biggest shopping destinations

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Subscribe or buy a mag today

Topics of Interest


Local Business Directory


Property Search