The Nuthatch is a characteristic, sleek, woodpecker-like bird which has a somewhat irregular distribution across Europe. In Britain the Nuthatch is a common bird south of a line running from the Solway to the Tees, but is absent from Ireland. It is also missing from much of Scandinavia and areas of southern Europe. The Nuthatch is seen in parkland and deciduous woodlands with mature trees, as well as in gardens.
An extremely active bird, the Nuthatch shows remarkable agility as it climbs along branches and trunks in every possible direction – up, down and around. However, the Nuthatch is not solely a tree feeder, and is also seen feeding on the ground with distinctive jerky hops. It frequently visits garden birdtables and nutbags and is not a particularly shy bird.
A neat bird, the Nuthatch has distinctive markings as well as a compact torpedoshaped body, short tail and hefty sharp bill. They have entirely steel blue-grey upperparts and wings, with the exception of the leading edge and flight feathers of the wing, and the tail shows black and white sides. A broad black eyestripe extends from the bill base to the ear-coverts, contrasting with the white throat. The underparts are buffy (but vary on Continental birds), with the male showing chestnut flanks, paler on the female. The bill is blackish with a silvery base, the eye is black, and the legs and feet are pinkish. Young birds have brown-tinged upperparts, a narrower, duller mask and dull brown flanks.
The Nuthatch’s flight is undulating and, along with the size and shape, it gives an initial impression of a small woodpecker. However, a good view reveals the distinctive grey upperparts and orange-buff underparts.
The Nuthatch uses its sturdy bill to great effect when storing or retrieving food. Several hefty blows will manage to break open a stored nut wedged in a bark crevice, and the tapping can be heard for several hundred metres in a quiet woodland.
Nuthatches are quite capable of foraging through autumn leaf litter when searching for nuts, seeds or insects. When frightened they will take flight, head for a safe bough and call a loud, full-sounding and excitable ‘chewit chewit’.