Nuthatches are not rare in the UK but they’re not particularly easy to spot. They were once largely restricted to south-eastern England but now breed throughout England and Wales and they have steadily spread to the north with breeding in Scotland first confirmed as recently as 1989.
According to a bird book in my possession, dating from the 1950s, it is notable that the nuthatch is “absent from Scotland” at that time. They may have been seen in Warriston Cemetery before but the first reported sighting, to my knowledge, was in November of 2020. There are at least two on the site and hopefully they are a breeding pair. Time will tell.
The bird book, incidentally, was printed by Morrison & Gibb, the company that had print works and offices at Tanfield which is about a quarter of a mile from the cemetery (as the crow flies).
The nuthatch is quite small, about the size of a great tit. The plumage is striking; blue-grey above and whitish below. Chestnut on its sides and under the tail. A black stripe on its head runs from the neck/shoulder, through its eye and to the bill. It has a long black pointed bill and short legs.
The name comes from the way it opens nuts. It jams them into the crevice of a tree and hammers at them with its bill until the nut ‘hatches’ and it can eat the contents. It sometimes stashes nuts and seeds to eat ‘later’, behaviour it shares with the coal tit. This can result in sunflowers sprouting in unexpected spots. Being omnivorous, they also eat insects etc.
When nesting, they tend to use holes in trees and old woodpecker nest sites seem to be a favourite situation. They sometimes use holes in walls too but wherever they nest they build a layer of mud around the entrance – even when the hole appears to be the correct size for their requirements.
Their silhouettes may resemble that of a woodpecker but they are not related. So, if you think you’re looking at a woodpecker against the light, it might be worth checking. Treecreepers, also small and very active, climb trees to forage for insects but nuthatches go up, down and can even hang upside-down on branches.
The images below were shot in Warriston Cemetery.