They’ll pop into smaller gar­dens if there are hang­ing feed­ers to make the ef­fort worth­while

Garden News (UK) - - Contents - With Ju­lian Rollins

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

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