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10 Interesting Facts About Nuthatches

774px-Red-breasted-Nuthatch-3c
Red-breasted Nuthatch

The nuthatch is a perennially favorite among backyard birds. With their unique body shape and active personality, it’s hard not to marvel at a nuthatch when it’s defying gravity on a nearby tree or visiting a feeder.

But like all birds, the nuthatches have a set of characteristics that make the birds distinctive and memorable.

Here are 10 fun facts about nuthatches.

1. Whereas treecreepers are known for being able to walk straight up a tree, nuthatches are the only species that can walk both up and down a tree. Also, unlike treecreepers, nuthatches don’t use their tail for support but rely on the strength of their legs.

2. The name nuthatches is derived from the term nut hacker because the birds are known to lodge nuts into tree crevices and hack away at them.

3. All nuthatches nest in cavities.

4. Most nuthatches have different ways to protect their nest cavities from predators. Some species use mud to reduce the entrance size of the cavity. The White-breasted Nuthatch smears blister beetles near the entrance, which is said to smell really bad. The Red-breasted Nuthatch will line the entrance with sticky conifer resin.

Pygmy Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch

5. There are four species of nuthatches in North America: the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch and White-breasted Nuthatch. Nearly wherever you are in the United States, you’ll be able to find a nuthatch.

6. There are at least 20 species around the world, though the number typically goes up to 25 species. The reason for the discrepancy is that not all scientists agree on whether certain nuthatch species should be lumped together or separated. In fact, a study says White-breasted Nuthatches may be four different species.

7. The largest nuthatch is the aptly named Giant Nuthatch (7.68 inches) and the smallest is the Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pygmy Nuthatch (both around 4 inches).

8. Eurasian Nuthatches have the largest range by far—consistently breeding from Portugal to Japan in temperate climates.

9. According to Cornell, the oldest known White-breasted Nuthatch lived to be 9 years and 10 months old.

10. Brown-headed Nuthatches are one of the few birds known to use a tool to help them find food. They’ll consistently use a piece of bark to help pry open other pieces of bark to search for insects. According to the American Bird Conservancy, they’ll even take it from tree to tree.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

5 Comments

  1. I put out roasted unsalted peanuts and sunflower seed kernels on my deck railing which attracted the white-breasted nuthatch. He loves to scale the pillar down to the railing and gather only the sunflower seed kernels! (I live in Southern California)

  2. There’s a little bird which looks like a white breasted nuthatch and almost lands on my hand when I’m putting out seeds and nuts on the railing of our deck or along a gate. Doesn’t seem afraid of me.
    Is this typical

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