In the early mornings letting our dogs out, we are always greeted by hundreds of different species of birds singing their hearts out. At night we have the nightingales’ concerts, blending in with hundreds of toads singing, announcing us tomorrow it might rain. This week we were in for a shock: a young nuthatch struck the kitchen window (a reminder for me to hang even more wind chimes, so the birds realize in time they can’t fly through that barrier!).
This little “sitelle” as the French call it, known to be noisy with a wide variety of whistles, trills and calls, was now lying on the terrace. My husband quickly picked it up, before our very intrigued dogs could reach it. “You want to take your camera for this one” he said, before I even had a clue what kind of species we had so close at hand. I just noticed immediately its attractive plumage. Aristotle gave this bird family the name Sittidae, birds pecking at the bark of trees.
The baby bird, scooped up in a hurry, sat on my husband’s hand few seconds later, quite untroubled by us, for quite some time. We finally put him on a tree branch and even then it took it a few minutes before it flew off, raising its wings and launching itself. Gone was the striking, small, woodpecker-like, baby bird, with its black robbers’ eye mask.
This monogamous (pairing for life), solitary bird lives about 2 to 4 years in the wild (exceptions will have longer lifetimes of course). When you see an acrobatic, fast-moving bird, watch and if it hops down a tree trunk head first, be sure it’s a nuthatch, depending entirely upon its claws, and strong hind toes. If that doesn’t do the job, his prominent black eye stripe will help you. This songbird (vocal throughout the year) can also hang upside down, foraging for insects, larvae, spiders and seeds, hence their nickname: “upside-down birds”. Holding tight with just their legs (they’re not using their soft tail), they can walk up and down a tree, even upside-down under overhanging branches. You’ll recognize the male at its reddish brown markings down the flanks, just under its wing.
Forget pests, damaging your trees, when this one lives around, as they seek out hidden insects in the bark of trees, that others ignore but only he sees, climbing downward. Smashing their food (hazelnuts, acorns, beech-mast, conifer seeds) by wedging them in crevices in tree trunks and then hacking them open, they are the squirrels of the birds, storing their food, hiding it for barren times to come. A time-consuming job, but it does help them through winter, as they do not migrate.
This busy, agile species (at least twenty different species of them exist, each having a preference for a specific type of tree) are to be found near deciduous or mixed woodland, on every continent, except for South America. They are very sedentary, resident and stay within short distance from the woods where they hatch, moving short distances from tree to tree. When sharing the same territories they will breed at different altitudes, to maintain their privacy. They’re known for their intolerance of other nuthatches, they’re anti-social to other birds and very territorial, a behaviour rarely seen in small garden–visiting species. Maybe it is because they require a minimum of about one hectare of good quality habitat, to raise their family. I hope you never see them fight, as they grab each other with their strong feet and stab with their long beaks!
The purpose of their beak is normally for removing pieces of bark of trees, to reach their food: invertebrates, but they will as well visit your garden feeding station for peanuts and sunflower hearts. Some will even visit a nuthatch nest box (approximately 32 mm) in your garden (although they prefer tree holes, being a cavity nester) and they might get so accustomed to you, that they will eat out of your hand. Typical for them is that they reduce their nesting hole in size, by plastering it with mud. Bark chips and dead leaves will form their nest. Nests can be too low to the ground, making these birds easy prey for predators like squirrels, cats…
When wildlife shows up at your door, you can always see it as a message. We just had a big, crazy, speedy, green lizzard whizzing through dogs paws entering our house, panick as we wanted to protect him from the dogs. He managed to run out again between all the dogs, staring to find him, none saw him running safely to the lawn again! What is going on, we had a visit from a toad hiding in the sand when we needed some, the lizzard and the nuthatch… As a totem or power animal, the nuthatch is believed to be there to teach that sometimes going in head first is best, and will help you find the courage to do so…
Are you always encouraging wildlife into your garden, I do! As you can see, we found a pregnant mummy toad, hiding in the sand and our veggie patch is being visited by tiny blue butterflies:
Well, then don’t forget to smear some suet into the bark of the trees surrounding your house, you might even attract the woodpecker and the tree creeper with this energy-rich snack.
Leaving you with this beautiful film of the nuthatch:
Hopefully identifying even more species living around us, as nature continues to open its gates wide open to us, on this marvelous piece of wild land we live on,