“Nuthatches have always fascinated me with their agile tree climbing abilities and their beauty (cheeky looks). So it was a pleasure to see them frequently while bird watching in Sikkim. We saw two species, with the White-tailed Nuthatch (Sitta himalayensis) being the commonest.
“Although being quite familiar with them in Malaysia, my observation have been largely in a tropical environment. I had not adequate realised aspects of their feeding behaviour in a temperate country, which I am describing here.
Meaning of the word Nuthatch
“Looking up online dictionaries as to the meaning of the word ‘nuthatch’, they indicate that it comes from a middle English word ‘notehache’ – a combination of nut + hache (hatchet). The root of this is from older French or Germanic origin and describes the habit of the bird of wedging nuts in bark and hacking them open. So ‘nuthack’ would be the more appropriate name.
Feeding Behaviour of Nuthatches
“Locally (tropical environment), I have almost always seen nuthatches take insects and other invertebrate prey. The image above shows a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch female with a spider prey (Sitta frontalis saturatior, Kledang-Sayong Forest Reserve, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia, 13th June 2015).
“However in temperate regions the diet changes in the colder months and more seeds, nuts, acorns and other vegetable matter is commonly fed on. Simon Harrap (2010, Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers, Christopher Helm) states ‘Larger food items, such as bigger insects and seeds, are wedged into cracks and crevices in bark or rocks and hammered open with the bill.’ In addition ‘Many (all?) species of nuthatch store food, usually seeds and nuts; theses are ‘scatter-hoarded’ singly in cracks and crevices.’
“Some of the White-tailed Nuthatch we observed (Kewzing, South Sikkim, 17th Sept 2015) were busy in the process of storing nuts in their ‘scatter-hoards’. Above shows a bird with an arcon nut it was looking to hide. Below is a composite image of a bird that hid a small nut while I was watching.
“And below shows another bird looking for a hiding spot (images taken tough thick mist).
“Hope they can find all these treasures come the cold weather.”
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia