They’ll pop into smaller gardens if there are hanging feeders to make the effort worthwhile
azelnuts are ripening just now, which is great news for nuthatches. They go nuts for tree seeds of all shapes and sizes. That includes beech mast and acorns. Of what’s on the menu, it’s hazelnuts that present the toughest challenge, but the nuthatch’s chisel-sharp bill will deal with a hazel’s shell.
The way it happens is that a nut is taken to a suitable tree and wedged into the bark. The bird then hacks away at the shell until it splinters – you’ll often hear the tapping sound in woodland during the autumn.
Once a bird that was found mostly in England’s south-west, the nuthatch has now become relatively common throughout most of England and Wales. It was first recorded as a breeding species in Scotland in the 1980s.
One reason for the spread north and east may be the growth in the popularity of garden feeders, which provide a sort of safety net for nuthatches. In years when nuts and seeds are in short supply in the countryside, they can now fall back on the peanuts and sunflower seeds that us gardeners dish up.
The nuthatch is a woodland species, so they prefer large gardens with mature trees. But they will pop into smaller gardens if there are hanging feeders to reward the effort. When they do they make their presence felt; they’re confident, even aggressive, and despite being only about the size of a robin, will stand up to bullying from bigger birds.
They’re also very territorial, rarely going far from home, and enthusiastically defending their patch. That’s partly because they bury little stores of food when there’s a surplus, so need to protect that investment.
This habit of tucking food supplies away for hungry times can explain the appearance in the garden of stray plants. A sunflower popping up unexpectedly could well be the work of a nuthatch.
If you do have nuthatches in and around your garden you’ll know that they rarely fail to entertain. They’re always on the go and seem to defy gravity – a nuthatch can run up and down tree trunks and boughs with effortless skill.
If you don’t, keep hanging feeders loaded up with peanuts or sunflower seeds this winter. Then keep your fingers crossed!
Put out sunflower seeds or peanuts and see if a nuthatch comes to visit