They are distinctive birds, with their blue grey neck, crown and back, with black stripe across eye. Their feet are large, perfect for gripping tree branches. Their underside is a rusty-chestnut colour for males, which blends into white under the bill, whereas for females it is slightly less rich in colour, though it can be difficult to distinguish. The bill itself is grey and almost dagger like and they have a short tail with a dark colouration with whitish edges.
The juveniles are duller in colour, almost grey toned rather than blue.
Average Length: 12.5-14.5 cm
Average Lifespan: 2-3 Years
Average Wingspan: 20-25cm
Nuthatches have quite a variable diet, feeding on invertebrates when they are plentiful, and focusing more on nuts (as the name would suggest!), berries, and seeds in the winter. This variation is shown in the size of their bill, which increases in depth when caterpillars are most prevalent in April-May and then decreases in size when there is a need to feed on seeds. They feed their young a variety of invertebrates, including winged insects, beetles, caterpillars, and spiders.
How to feed: Hanging feeders
What to feed: Nuts, mixed seeds and suet treats
Nuthatch nests are usually a hole in a tree, often using abandoned woodpecker holes or nest boxes. They usually will make the entrance smaller with mud to keep out other hole-nesters and line the nest with pieces of leaves and bark. The first clutch is laid in April-May, with a second clutch sometimes following. 6-8 eggs are laid in the nest, which are incubated by the female for 2 and a half weeks. When the female is not incubating, she covers the eggs with the bark lining to hide them. After hatching, the chicks are fed for another 3 and a half weeks until they are ready for fledging.
Currently nuthatch numbers are increasing and are doing well within the UK and are of least concern globally. The main threat to this species would be the destruction of habitat and suitable nesting spaces through deforestation and homogenisation of the environment.
Keep a constant supply of fresh, clean water available year-round.
Provide fresh food at your feeders to be in with a chance to see a nuthatch, they particularly like peanuts and sunflower hearts.
Nuthatches will sometimes use nest boxes, so putting one of these in your garden may encourage them to visit.
Did you know that there are observations of nuthatches using tools? One such observation was recorded in London where a nuthatch used a small wooden tool to try and lever up a piece of bark to access insects. More reports of other nuthatch species using tools have been similarly recorded in America!
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Sitta europaea. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/06/2022.
Cantarero, A., López-Arrabé, J., Moreno, J. (2015) Selection of nest site and nesting material in the Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europea. Ardea. 103: doi: 0.5253/arde.v103i2.a#
Matthysen, E. (1989) Seasonal variation in bill morphology of nuthatches Sitta europaea : dietary adaptations or consequences? Ardea. 77: 117-125.
Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (http://www.bto.org/birdfacts, accessed on 28 March 2022)
Rutz, C., Deans, S. (2018) Nuthatch uses tool in London park. Ethology. 124(2): 135-138.
Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114
Wesolowski, T., Rowiński, P. (2004) Breeding behaviour of Nuthatch Sitta europaea in relation to natural hole attributes in a primeval forest. Bird Study. 51(2):143-155
Wesolowski, T., Rowiński, P., Neubauer, G. (2019) Food of Nuthatch Sitta europaea Young in a Primeval Forest: Effects of Varying Food Supply and Age of Nestlings. Acta Ornithologica. 54(1): 85-104.
Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.