Nuthatch: the bird profiles


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
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Know how to spot a female nuthatch? What about a baby nuthatch? Here’s everything you should know about the nuthatch.

A nuthatch climbing a tree upside-down
Nuthatches climb upside down [Photo: Hajakely/]

The nuthatch (Sitta europaea) is a curious bird with many unique characteristics. Often seen moving nimbly from tree trunk to tree branch, nuthatches peck at insects from crevices in tree bark. In many ways, this behaviour mirrors a treecreeper’s behaviour. One crucial difference however, is that the nuthatch, unlike most other birds, doesn’t just climb up trees, but head-long down them. Read on to learn more about this intriguing little songbird.

Nuthatch: key facts

SizeAbout 14cm
WeightAbout 20g
Breeding seasonApril-May
LifespanApproximately 7 years
HabitatWoodland, parks and large, wild gardens
Food preferencesInsects, spiders, nuts and seeds
ThreatsDecline in natural habitat and food supply

How to recognise the nuthatch

Aside from their long, pointed beaks, nuthatches are about the size and stature of a great tit. Their backs and wings are blue-grey, in contrast to their light, red-brown abdomens. A black line peels across their eyes – from the dark beak to the base of the wings, and is underlined by white cheeks.

: A nuthatch perched on a wall
The most noticeable feature of the nuthatch is the black line crossing its eye

How to recognise a young nuthatch

Young nuthatches are easy to spot because they look so similar to their parents. The line across their eye is not quite as dark as on an adult, and their abdomens are less red. But you shouldn’t have any difficulty making them out.

A young nuthatch perched on a wall
Young nuthatches look similar to their parents [Photo: Simun Ascic/]

How to recognise a nuthatch egg

Nuthatches lay six to seven eggs per nest. The eggs are about two centimetres tall, white and covered with red spots. Mothers lay their eggs in nests made of bark, grass and feathers. The bark of the Scots pine is often used for this, although the tree is unlikely to be close to the nest.

How to tell the difference between male and female nuthatches

Female nuthatches hardly differ from males. Your best bet is to look for the male’s chestnut-brown flanks. In females, the flanks are the same colour as the abdomen: light brown-red.

What is the perfect habitat for nuthatches?

Nuthatches prefer to live in deciduous or mixed forests. The songbird also feels at home in urban environments – as long as there are some trees; parks, boulevards and large, wild gardens are fine.

Where do nuthatches build their nests?

Nuthatches rely on old trees with natural tree hollows. Very often, they will “renovate” vacant woodpecker nests, protecting against predators by closing off the entrance. In fact, they close the entrance so much so that they themselves can barely fit through it. This is done by tapping clay and small lumps of earth into place in a process known as “gluing”.

A nuthatch stands outside a cavity nest on a tree trunk
The nuthatch shrinks the opening of its home with clay and earth to protect it from enemies [Photo: Petr Simon/]

When is breeding season for nuthatches?

Nuthatches lay their eggs from mid to late April. Hatching takes place two weeks later and the young chicks are fed with lots of insects by both parents. After about 24 days, the hatchlings leave the nest and make their first attempted flights. At this stage, they are particularly susceptible to predators such as corvids and birds of prey, but a second nuthatch brood is rare.

Where do nuthatches spend winter?

Nuthatches can be seen year round in the UK, and breeding partners stay at home throughout winter. To tide them over the colder months, nuthatches will create many hiding places for nuts, acorns and beechnuts. Their supplies are hidden in cracks in the trees, camouflaged with lichen or moss and vehemently defended.

What does a nuthatch’s song sound like?

If a nuthatch is nearby, you’re unlikely to miss her; a nuthatch’s voice resonates loudly throughout woodland. In addition to numerous calls, which range from sharp whistles to trills, the nuthatch song consists of a rising or falling “wih-wih-wih”.

: A nuthatch perches
In addition to singing, the nuthatch has various calls

Help the nuthatch!

Although nuthatches are quite capable of looking after themselves in winter, there are many small things you can do to make their lives easier. Nuthatches have a green conservation status in the UK, but owing to a lack of deciduous and mixed forests, they lack natural habitat. By offering additional food and perhaps even a birdhouse, you can support the songbird in making a new home in your garden.

What do nuthatches eat?

In summer, nuthatches mainly eat insects and spiders found in tree bark. They peck at the insects with pointed beaks, whilst clinging onto tree trunks and branches. In winter, they are vegetarian, relying on nuts and seeds. So to support nuthatches in winter, reach for fatty foods and nuts, like peanuts. Sunflower seeds are also a great source of energy.

Tip: Find out about designing, cleaning and positioning a bird feeder in our article “How to make a bird feeder”.

Which birdhouses are suitable for nuthatches?

Nuthatches prefer completely enclosed birdhouses with entrances that are 32 millimetres in diameter. However, since nuthatches tend to make the entrances to their nests as small as possible, you may get away with a birdhouse meant for larger birds.

Tip: We have an article exclusively for buying, building and installing a bird box, check it out!

A nuthatch clings to a birdhouse entrance
Birdhouses are loved by nuthatches, but they may well be customised [Photo: karegg/]

How can I support nuthatches even more?

By protecting oak and beech forests, we protect the nuthatch’s natural habitat. Unfortunately, these old trees continue to decline, threatening many animal species. What is more, food supplies are dwindling as insect populations decline. You can help by avoiding chemical sprays as much as possible. And, to bring even more life to your garden. It creates a paradise for innumerable insects, which is nothing but good for all your feathered garden visitors.

Find more tips for creating an insect-friendly garden, and support not only nuthatches, but also robins and jays.

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