discover the remarkable eurasian nuthatch, a bird with the extraordinary ability to walk upside down. learn more about this fascinating bird and its unique characteristics.

The Eurasian nuthatch: A bird with the remarkable ability to walk upside down

GardenBy Jun 23, 2024

The Fascinating Abilities of the Eurasian Nuthatch

The Eurasian nuthatch is a small passerine bird known for its remarkable ability to walk upside down. This unique skill sets it apart from other birds and makes it a fascinating creature to observe. Let’s take a closer look at the Eurasian nuthatch and its extraordinary capabilities.

A Bird of Acrobatics

The Eurasian nuthatch, scientifically known as Sitta europaea, is a member of the passerine order and the Sittidae family. It measures approximately 14 cm in length and weighs between 19 and 25 grams. With its distinct plumage and agile nature, this bird is a true acrobat.

Its striking plumage features a contrast between a slate grey to light blue-grey back and a reddish-orange to rust-colored belly. The wings are a darker brownish-grey with a subtle faint grey-blue border, and the flanks are chestnut colored. A black band crosses each eye, giving the nuthatch a pirate-like appearance. Its short tail contributes to its characteristic silhouette and easy identification.

The male Eurasian nuthatch generally has more vibrant colors than the female, but the difference is not significant. The juvenile birds are only slightly duller than the adults.

Walking Upside Down: A Unique Ability

One of the most remarkable features of the Eurasian nuthatch is its ability to walk upside down along tree trunks. Unlike any other European bird, it effortlessly clings to the smoothest of barks using its curved and clawed toes. This skill allows it to explore every nook and cranny of the tree’s surface, searching for insects and spiders hidden in the crevices.

The nuthatch’s strong, long, and pointed beak enables it to wedge nuts, seeds, and hard shells into tree bark crevices. It can then crack, shell, or crush them with remarkable force. This unique feeding behavior sets it apart from other birds and highlights its resourcefulness.

The Eurasian nuthatch’s vocalizations are also distinctive. It is a highly vocal species, emitting sharp whistles and fluty songs that can be easily recognized in forest environments. Its calls are often reminiscent of extended trills or melodic flute-like tunes. In spring, its vocalizations become even more pronounced, making it a delightful presence in woodland areas.

A Solitary Wanderer

The Eurasian nuthatch tends to be a solitary bird, although it does form bonded pairs during the breeding season. It maintains a territorial behavior, rarely associating with other birds, especially when feeding on bird feeders. As a sedentary species, it adapts its diet to the seasons, foraging both on trees and on the ground.

The nuthatch’s acrobatic abilities allow it to descend headfirst down tree trunks effortlessly, using its curved claws for support. Its flight is brief and rapid, with noticeable black and white markings on its tail when in motion.

Habitat and Distribution

The Eurasian nuthatch can be found throughout Eurasia, inhabiting various regions from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. Its range extends from southern Scandinavia and Siberia in the north to the Mediterranean basin, with a presence in Turkey, northern Iran, and even Japan. This wide distribution includes 21 different subspecies.

Typically, the nuthatch prefers mature forests with deciduous or mixed trees, such as oaks and pines. In France, it can be observed in various habitats, including orchards and urban parks, as long as they provide enough space and tranquility.

A Diverse Diet

The diet of the Eurasian nuthatch varies according to the season. During the warmer months, it feeds primarily on insects and their larvae, including ants, hoverflies, beetles, caterpillars, and spiders, which it finds on tree bark and branches. Its resourcefulness allows it to search for food across all levels of the forest.

When winter approaches and many insects go dormant, the nuthatch switches to a diet of seeds, nuts, acorns, yew berries, and suet balls found near human habitation. It readily visits seed feeders, with sunflower seeds being a preferred choice, and stores small food reserves in tree crevices or in the ground for times of scarcity.

Reproduction and Nesting

During the breeding season, the Eurasian nuthatch showcases its intelligence and resourcefulness once again. It is a monogamous species that exhibits territorial behavior. The pair remains in their territory throughout the year and breeds between April and May.

The nuthatch’s nesting behavior is particularly intriguing. It constructs its nest in cavities, often selecting abandoned woodpecker holes or natural crevices. The female, with minimal assistance from the male, transforms the chosen cavity into a suitable nesting site. Instead of excavating its own cavity, it focuses on sealing the entrance to avoid disturbances from predators or competitors. This action involves using a mud mixture, earning the bird the nickname “torchepot,” or “mud plasterer.” The meticulous process takes several weeks to complete.

Once the nest is ready, the female lays 4 to 9 white eggs lightly speckled with red. She incubates the eggs for about two weeks until they hatch. The hatchlings have sparsely grayish-dark down on their backs. They remain in the nest for over three weeks, cared for and fed by their parents. Even after fledging, the young birds stay in close proximity to their parents for an additional one to two weeks.

An Ally for the Garden

The Eurasian nuthatch is considered one of the most beneficial birds to have in a garden. Its presence helps control insect and spider populations on trees, shrubs, hedges, and even walls, woodpiles, and branches. Although it may not be the most sociable bird, it actively participates in winter feeding rounds, similar to tits.

This common species has a widespread population and is not currently threatened. However, it still faces predation from raptors such as the Eurasian sparrowhawk, the tawny owl, as well as martens and weasels.

With its remarkable abilities and valuable contributions to ecosystems, the Eurasian nuthatch is a truly remarkable bird. Its acrobatics, resourcefulness, and adaptable nature make it a captivating species to observe and appreciate.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.