Nuthatches home and away
I refilled the bird feeders at the start of October, having left them empty over the summer when I reckoned the nearby woods were overflowing with natural food. I had thought that the feeders might be neglected for a while longer yet before the day was out they were festooned with blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits.
My favourite visitors, bullfinches, greater spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches, took a few days longer to realise the feeding station was back in business. I particularly admire the nuthatches with their bandit masks and incredible agility, as happy manoeuvring down a trunk or branch as going upwards, their feet so strong that they can do without the tail props utilised by woodpeckers and tree creepers.
I had seen little of them over the summer although I was surprised one hot day to find one standing on a lily pad in one of the ponds while it drank, its large feet spreading its weight like a short-legged lilytrotter.
Our nuthatch is common wherever there are trees throughout England although absent from northern Scotland and Ireland and with a range extending across most of southern and middle Europe into the Far East.
In the eastern Mediterranean, where cliffs, rocky slopes and steep mountainsides have been denuded of trees, the nuthatch has nevertheless branched out to fill the treeless niche, in the form of the rock nuthatch, of size and colouration similar to ours although paler and lacking white tail spots. I have seen them on the cliffs of Corfu and on hillsides in Lesbos where in spring family parties bobbed up and down on rocky walls, easy to see in the open habitat in contrast to the difficulty in seeing families of our nuthatch in woodland.
Two much smaller nuthatches retain toeholds in Europe. Kruper’s nuthatch, with a vivid white eyebrow separating black crown and eyestripe and a chestnut breast band, can be found in a few areas of coniferous forest in the Greek island of Lesbos into which it extends from Turkey. It took me several mornings of diligent searching to locate one while exploring the island a few years ago.
More recently, on a visit to a different island, I managed to track down the other small nuthatch, the Corsican, high in the mountains, its range restricted to native pines between 2500 and 5000 feet altitude. On that occasion I cheated somewhat by luring one down from the treetops with a recording of its call to within camera range (pictured). Like all the members of its family a difficult bird to find but well worth the effort.