My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Sometimes you feel like a nut(hatch)

The subject of this post is the white breasted nuthatch, one of the more common woodland birds here in Michigan.

White breasted nuthatch

You can see that their beak is relatively long and thin, they feed primarily on insects, using their long thin beaks to probe the crevices in the bark of trees to find the insects hiding there. Sometimes they will chip away at the wood of trees to get at food, much like a woodpecker does, but nuthatches aren’t as well equipped for that as are the woodpeckers.

Over the winter months, nuthatches join loose flocks of mixed species with chickadees and titmice mainly, but often with a few brown creepers, woodpeckers of different species, and other birds as well.

The white breasted nuthatch is the largest of the nuthatch family, but they are still a small bird, about 5 inches long. Nuthatches are active, agile little birds that creep along trunks and large branches, probing into bark furrows with their straight, pointed bills. One of the first things you’ll probably notice about them is that they are almost always upside down.

White breasted nuthatch

They usually start towards the top of a tree and work their way down as the search for food. In fact, I took one of my photos of them and rotated it 180 degrees to see what they look like in a “heads up” position…

White breasted nuthatch

…and it just doesn’t look right, as you seldom see them in this position. They never hold still for very long, they are always on the move. They are one of my favorite birds to watch, as they work their way around trees and branches. One thing has me really puzzled about them though, they will spiral their way around a tree limb, hanging from the bottom of the limb at times, but they are able to defy gravity and hop their way under a limb. How do they do that? Even the ultimate little clowns, the chickadees, can be seen hanging under limbs, but you can also see that they hang on to do so. Not nuthatches, they go around and around under limbs as if there were no such thing as gravity trying to pull them down.

While they feed primarily on insects, they also feed on seeds and nuts they find, and readily come to a bird feeder. They often store seeds and other morsels of food that they find for later on, by jamming the food into crevices in the bark of trees. Here’s a series of photos showing a nuthatch doing just that.

White breasted nuthatch

It doesn’t show up well in this photo, but the nuthatch has a sunflower seed in its beak.

White breasted nuthatch

You can see the sunflower seed a little better in that photo, and even better in this one.

White breasted nuthatch

The seed is about to disappear, and not by being eaten!

White breasted nuthatch pushing a seed into the bark of a tree

With the seed safely jammed into the bark, it’s time for a quick look around to see if the coast is clear as far as predators…

White breasted nuthatch

…then back to the bird feeder for another seed to hide….

White breasted nuthatch in flight

I didn’t put up a bird feeder, I should, but then I would sit in my warm apartment and shoot great photos without having to work for them.  🙂 The feeder that this nuthatch was using was right on the edge of the park I walk often, and the nuthatch was flying back and forth with the seeds, posing for me.

When they aren’t storing seeds for later, they do about the same thing with seeds that they intend to eat. They bring the seeds to a convenient tree, drive the seed into the bark of the tree, then they crack open the seed by pecking at it. Here’s a series of shots of a nuthatch cracking open a seed and eating it.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

Down the hatch!

White breasted nuthatch

Or should I say up the hatch, nuthatch that is, how do they do that? Swallow up?

I’ll finish this up with a few of one particularly photogenic nuthatch, who stopped by to see what I was up to while photographing a red bellied woodpecker. First the woodpecker…

Red bellied woodpecker

Then the nuthatch….

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

Here’s looking at you, kid! If you would like to learn more about these gravity defying cute little clowns, you can find more at the All About Birds website.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


15 responses

  1. Great post and great photos.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    • Thank you, Bob!

      January 21, 2012 at 11:15 am

  2. Wonderful photos!

    January 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm

  3. Northern Narratives

    They are fun to watch. Great photos 🙂

    January 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    • Thank you!

      January 21, 2012 at 10:23 am

  4. Before I read this all I knew about nuthatches was that they hung around upside down a lot. Now I know a lot more, so thank you. If I get into the woods this weekend I’ll see if I can spot any.

    Oh-and yes, you did spell my name right in your last post. I’m surprised-most people don’t!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    • Thank you, I try to be informative and entertaining, I’m never sure if it works or not.

      January 21, 2012 at 11:18 am

  5. Great story. You can’t meet that kind of nuthatch here in Poland, but the ones we’ve got here behave in exactly the same way. Here’s one I photographed some time ago:


    January 21, 2012 at 9:41 am

    • Thank you, and nice photo!

      January 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

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  7. LOVE the nuthatch, they are all over up here too. So fun to watch, and their little yip cracks me up. Love the one of him looking at you 🙂

    January 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    • Thank you! Every once in a while, some critter seems genuinely curious about what I am and what I am doing, as was the case with that nuthatch.

      January 21, 2012 at 11:33 pm

  8. Excellent post about a fun-to-watch bird! You got some great photos of them. I like hearing their ‘yank yank yank’ call, and when I hear it I look for other birds that they travel with, such as Chickadees.

    January 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    • Thank you

      January 23, 2012 at 12:18 am

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