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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

THE NUTHATCH Sitta europaea

The nuthatch has many traits of the woodpecker being an arboreal species. Old names for the bird include wood cracker, nut jobber and mud stopper. They belong too the genus Sitta and placed in the Order Passeriformes, a small passerine {perching bird} found throughout temperate Europe and Asia, but not alas in Ireland.Worldwide there are about 24 species in the family.

Sitta europeae---Photograph courtesy of Marek Szezepanek retouched by Snowmanradio, Creative Commons attribution

Description of Sitta europaeae

The plumage is blue-grey above and chestnut below with a prominent eye stripe. The head is large , rather flat and long with strong bill. The flanks are a buff orange colour which gives character to its distinctive charm.

The strong legs and feet appear well back on the body. The feet are unlike those of the woodpecker having three toes in front and one behind, using its claws to climb, not the tail as the woodpecker does. The claws are designed perfectly for climbing and gripping the underside of branches. The male is considered the more handsome but it would take an expert eye to differentiate between the two.

The length of the nuthatch is 14cm and they weigh about 23g. In relation to the birds body  size the wings are of medium long, the tail is medium short, neck short, bill medium length and legs medium.

The nuthatch climbs up and down tree trunks with a jerky movement, quite different , from the tree creepers mouse like movements. Goes down the tree trunk habitually, tree creepers do this though much less often.

The flight is undulating the tail appearing somewhat heavy, they seldom take to sustained flight. In Autumn they often join foraging mixed species parties often with tits and goldcrests.

The song slight and somewhat plaintive and only really heard during the breeding season. However, the alarm or call note is heard much more frequently being a high pitched , often repeated, " whit whit whit". 

Life and times of the Eurasian nuthatch

During the period between November and February food becomes harder to locate they begin to feed on hidden food supplies collected during autumn when it was plentiful. They also forage with mixed species flocks, but seldom leave their own range.

By March or April the weather becomes more temperate and the nuthatch begins to utter its plaintive somewhat rattling song. The birds select a suitable nest hole and defend it from all rivals. Despite their arboreal lifestyle they are more allied to the tit family than the woodpecker family. Unlike the wood pecker it does not use its bill to chisel out a nest hole. Instead, like many of the tit family, they select a natural nest hole or recess in a tree, they may even choose a hole formerly occupied by a woodpecker or indeed be tempted to use a nest box.

In nature's woodland many species of birds will nest in tree holes and their is intense rivalry between the species. Starlings in particular will readily evict smaller species from their abode. To counteract this possibility this diligent little bird gathers mud; as much as is required to make sure its front door is only just large enough to allow access to the rightful tenant. This gives rise to one of the birds' country titles of mud stopper.

The nuthatch is well suited to its arboreal lifestyle

Courtesy  of Pawel Kuzniar CC BY-SA 3.0 License

The nuthatch does not seem to particular as to the height from the ground the hole is. The nest itself does not amount to much, being merely a bed of dry leaves, or strips of bark, or any chippings left over from the birds labour of enlarging the the nest chamber.

The eggs are almost indistinguishable from those of the great tit, being similar in size, and also with red spots varying in size and distribution. The clutch may vary from 5-8 and may be encountered as early as April {May in the more northern regions} but there is every chance they could be encountered after mid summer, but these will almost certainly be replacement clutches.

The eggs are incubated by the female for about 17 days they fedge after 24-25 days. Once hatched the chicks grow quickly on a protein rich diet of insects procured by their parents. After fledging they are still fed by their parents for a further 2 weeks or so.

Eventually they disperse in search of territories of their own. at this stage the adults under take a full moult. 

Nuthatch diet during the Autumn and winter.

 During autumn and winter the nuthatch feeds on nuts and seeds. They wedge the nuts and hard seeds into crevices in the tree bark. Then the bird delivers repeated sharp blows with its bill until the outer shell is breached and the edible part is revealed. this action gave rise to the birds common name, from nut= hatch {hatchet]

CONSERVATION ISSUES.

The nuthatch seems to be increasing in numbers across most of temperate Europe. here in the north of England there have been records of nuthatch's in small numbers for many years. Over the last few years they are becoming much more numerous and there has been a substantial increase in their distribution. Locally here in Lancashire the birds have increased greatly over this period. this may well be due to climate change which { with the exception of last winter { 2010/11} have been much milder than the previous two decades.

The nuthatch is placed on the Green list of conservation concerns in the UK, which defines there are no immediate conservation concerns.  Long may the numbers of this handsome, entertaining little bird continue to rise.

Familiar Wild Birds {1800's }

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Also see an in depth article {Birds of Europe} about the nuthatch with notes and observations from past ornithologists and other eminent writers by visiting hub.me/agsZ2  

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