Nuthatches are wonderful, perky birds that can be entertaining backyard visitors, but it can be challenging to attract nuthatches. How can you encourage these small climbing birds to visit your feeders or take up residence in your bird houses?
Why We Love Nuthatches
Nuthatches are feisty birds with bold personalities and aggressive attitudes. There are 25 species of nuthatch worldwide, but only four are regularly seen in North America: the white-breasted nuthatch, red-breasted nuthatch, pygmy nuthatch and brown-headed nuthatch.
All four will visit backyards but the white-headed and red-breasted nuthatches are the most likely guests. In Europe, the common or Eurasian nuthatch is the most widespread and is also likely to appear in backyards and gardens.
All nuthatches eat copious amounts of insects, making them a favored visitor in areas where insect infestations and caterpillars can damage trees. Any nuthatch's nimble acrobatics as it forages headfirst down a tree or dangles from branches can be entertaining to watch, and these sleek birds are popular whenever they arrive in a bird-friendly backyard.
How to Attract Nuthatches
The key to attracting any bird is to meet the bird's basic needs for food, water, shelter and nesting sites. Backyard birders can easily do this for nuthatches when they consider these birds' specific needs.
- Food: Nuthatches are primarily insectivorous, but they will easily visit bird feeders for nuts, sunflower seeds, mealworms, suet and peanut butter, particularly in fall and winter. Learn how to offer suet to backyard birds and add peanut feeders to the buffet, and nuthatches will happily become regular guests. Growing sunflowers or adding trees that provide natural nuts such as acorns, hazelnuts, beechnuts or hickory nuts is a great way to offer natural food sources for these birds as well. Evergreen trees are a nuthatch favorite for their seeds, and minimizing insecticides ensures a ready supply of protein-rich insects for the birds to eat.
- Water: Even if a nuthatch is reluctant to visit a feeder, it still needs a clean, fresh water source to drink. A bird bath should be shallow to attract nuthatches, and they are more attracted to moving water from drippers, wigglers, bird bath fountains or misters. Nuthatches have even been known to flutter in oscillating sprinkers, so timing lawn or garden watering to birds' activity periods can help entice them to visit. Placing the bird bath near a tree where nuthatches are more likely to feed regularly will help make it more noticeable to the birds.
- Shelter: Birds need shelter at night and to stay protected from foul weather. Nuthatches will readily use cavities, so providing bird roost boxes can give these small birds a safe, comfortable place to rest. Dead trees should be left intact as much as possible to the birds can take advantage of natural cavities as well. On warmer nights, both coniferous and deciduous trees can provide adequate shelter for all types of nuthatches to stay safe, though larger, taller and more mature trees are preferred.
- Nesting Sites: Watching a pair of nuthatches raise their brood of tiny chicks is a treat, and providing good nesting sites can tempt these cavity-nesting birds become permanent residents. Birders who take steps to attract woodpeckers may find nuthatches moving in to old woodpecker holes, so older trees and hollow snags should be left intact. Nuthatches will also live in bird houses, if the entrance hole and overall bird house dimensions are favorable. The box should be placed on a tree trunk high enough to help the birds feel secure, but it should also be protected from predators so the birds are not in danger. Providing nesting materials such as pet fur, fine grass or shredded bark and leaves can also convince nuthatches to stay nearby.
More Tips for Attracting Nuthatches
Even a yard or garden designed with nuthatches in mind may not immediately attract these sometimes suspicious birds. If you know the birds are in the area but they haven't yet made an appearance in your yard, try…
- Minimizing or eliminating insecticide, pesticide and other outdoor chemical use to promote more abundant food for the birds.
- Planting nut-bearing trees or shrubs and keeping mature trees intact with minimal pruning to provide the best food and habitat.
- Smearing soft suet or peanut butter on tree trunks for easy, convenient nuthatch feeding. Attaching suet feeders directly to the tree trunk can also encourage nuthatch visits.
- Leaving dead trees intact as food sources, shelter and nesting sites. A messy landscape is a more bird-friendly one, especially for sometimes shy birds like nuthatches.
- Watching flocks of other small birds such as chickadees, tits, creepers and small woodpeckers. Nuthatches often join these types of birds in winter and will stay with the mixed flock while foraging, so they may be in the yard already but going unnoticed in the group.
Above all, be patient. Nuthatches have bold personalities but may take a long time to trust a new area well enough to come out in the open. Over time, however, these fun birds can become backyard favorites all year round.