The nuthatch

by Richard Jones

Tucking in to our home-made quiche, and carrot cake, I notice a small bird flickering about high up on the trunk of an old tree at the edge of the clearing. It's a nuthatch.

Nuthatch - image copyright Ben Hall / RSPB ImagesThe bright Sunday morning sees me and nearly six-year-old scootering around Crystal Palace Park looking at dinosaur statues. We make a right pair — he clattering on the blue plastic three-wheeler, me skidding on the chrome micro. In order to avoid knocking into too many other promenaders, I decide to head for the picnic tables near the Anoplotherium herd for an early lunch. Or is it a late second breakfast?

Tucking in to our home-made quiche, and carrot cake, I notice a small bird flickering about high up on the trunk of an old tree at the edge of the clearing. It’s a nuthatch. From this distance its grey-blue plumage makes it look elegant and sleek, rather than the ‘plump’ suggested by all the birding guides. Maybe it’s just had a tough winter.

As we watch, it is obvious that it’s preparing its nest hole. One of several small round openings on the tree, this particular one has been partly closed off, to make it even smaller, by accumulated mud daubs, so that the entrance now precisely fits the bird’s exact shape and size. Occasionally it comes out onto the bark to fidget about, but most of the time it stays indoors and keeps bobbing its head in and out of the hole. What on Earth is it up to?

Richard Jones and a Crystal Palace dinosaurI can only imagine that it is picking up bits of rubbish inside the cavity, and dropping them out of the hole. It’s a good 10 metres, as the nuthatch flies, from my eye to the hole, and I’m darned if I can see anything. As we’re watching I talk the boy through what I think is going on. “Oh yes”, he says, through mouthfuls of strawberry fromage frais, “I can see it dropping bits; there goes one.” I squint. No, I’ll just have to take his word on that.

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Gardeners' World Web User 02/03/2011 at 08:43

Time for distance glasses.Richard? I used to be the same with bus numbers. But your blog is enough to make one want to live in London - just kidding. you have enough of the human animal already! Four eyes are always better than two on walks, I find, especially younger ones. It works the same on weeding forays in the garden, much better to have two pairs of eyes, and that way you can share if you find a baby newt or something equally delightful like your nuthatch.

Gardeners' World Web User 03/03/2011 at 06:55

The picture is very interesting to me. The nuthatches in Minnesota are very white on the breast. Does this one also walk upside down on the tree trunks to store seeds??

Gardeners' World Web User 05/03/2011 at 10:42

today is the first day that ive ever seen a nuthatch in my garden,im really really pleased,also a blinking brown rat has decided to pay us a far hes been sitting on my lawn for about an hour helping himself to bread,nuts and seed which i have to say are for my birds......

Gardeners' World Web User 05/03/2011 at 16:48

mjceaser: yes, our European nuthatches also walk upside down the trunk, they are the only kind of bird to do so here. We are very lucky to have a pair that regularly visits our garden. I think they're great.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/03/2011 at 20:43

Reply to mjceaser We have the European nuthatch, Sitta europea, here. You have probably seen the white-breasted nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis, which is apparently very common in much of North America. In Britain there is only one other little bird that runs on the bark. The treecreeper is mottled brown and only walks up tree trunks (as do the larger woodpeckers), using its tail as a support. The nuthatch walks up, down and sideways across the tree trunks.

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