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Nuthatches: Living Life Upside Down

Our bird feeders attract several different bird species, so keep an eye out for one that is a little quirky and routinely landing bottom-up! It’s the friendly and comical Nuthatch.

Nuthatches are sometimes called "upside-down birds".

A mix band of Chickadees and Nuthatches is called a guild.

It is common for nuthatches to band together in mixed flocks of Chickadees, Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, and Kinglets. However large the flock, Nuthatches are always the comic of the bunch.

There are two species of Nuthatches found in Michigan. The most common is the White-Breasted Nuthatch, which is found throughout the region year-round. We often see them in yards with large developed trees. Both the male and female have white breasts and bellies. The Red-Breasted Nuthatch has a buff-colored belly and a distinct black stripe across its eye, almost as if it is wearing an eye mask. Red-Bellied Nuthatches prefer coniferous forests and, therefore, are more commonly seen in our area during the winter. With both species, the sexes are nearly identical with the females being only marginally more muted in color.

After being observed hatching lodged nuts, they were called Nuthatches.

We often notice Nuthatches at our feeders diligently consuming one seed after another, paying special attention to their favorite – sunflower seeds! But they still enjoy eating a wide variety of seeds, nuts, and insects as well. In fact, they are not all too picky and will also frequent suet cakes and seed blocks.

Nuthatches spend much of their time in and around trees. We often see them searching tree bark for insects – both right side up and upside down! Surprisingly, they even use the bark to crack open seeds and nuts by lodging seed in the bark of a tree and striking it until the kernel pops out. They then can use the bark to store extra seeds and nuts for future use.

These acrobatic wonders are a favored backyard bird.

Nuthatches are cavity nesters and will readily excavate their own space. They also use nesting boxes in areas without dead or dying trees. To deter competitors, Red-Breasted Nuthatches will line cavity holes with pine resin. Other Nuthatches have been known to use mud or blister beetles for a similar effect.

However, Nuthatches are quite friendly and approachable around humans! They don’t show a fear of us and can be conditioned to accept hand-feeding. While they might not be the most colorful bird at the feeder, their antics will give you enjoyment throughout the year. 

You don’t have to be upside down to appreciate these characters!

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