nuthatch defined in 1930 yearnuthatch - Nuthatch;
nuthatch - Upper parts bluish grey; a black streak across the eye; cheeks and throat white; breast and belly buff; flank and lower tail- coverts chestnut- red; outer tail feathers black, with a white spot near the end tipped with grey, the two central ones grey; beak bluish black, the lower mandible white at the base; feet light brown. Length, five inches and a half.
The nuthatch, although a small bird, not brightly coloured, and scarcely deserving the name of songster, exercises a singular attraction; and if it were possible to canvass all those who love birds, and have not fewer than half a dozen favourites, it is probable that in a great majority of cases the nuthatch would be found among them. When I see him sitting quite still for a few moments on a branch of a tree in his most characteristic nuthatch attitude, on or under the branch, perched horizontally or vertically, with head of tail uppermost, but always with the body placed beetle-wise against the bark, head raised, and the straight, sharp bill pointing like an arm lifted to denote attention - at such times he looks less like a living than a sculptured bird, a bird cut out of a beautifully variegated marble - blue-grey, buff, and chestnut - and placed against the tree to deceive the eye. The figure is so smooth and compact, the tints so soft and stone-like; and when he is still, he is so wonderfully still, and his attitude so statuesque! But he is never long still, and when he resumes his lively, eccentric, up-and-down and side- way motions he is interesting in another way. One is not soon tired of watching his perpetual mouse-like, independent-of-the-earth's- gravity perambulations over the surface of the trunk and branches. He is like a small woodpecker who has broken loose from the woodpecker's somewhat narrow laws of progression, preferring to be a law unto himself.
Without a touch of brilliant colour, the nuthatch is a beautiful bird on account of the pleasing softness and harmonious disposition of his tints; and, in like manner, without being a songster in the strict sense of the word, his voice is so clear and far-reaching, and of so pleasant a quality, that it often gives more life and spirit to the woods and orchards and avenues he frequents than that of many true melodists. This is more especially the case in the month of March, before the migratory songsters have arrived, and when he is most loquacious. A high-pitched, clear, ringing note, repeated without variation several times, is his most often-heard call or song. He will sometimes sit motionless on his perch, repeating this call at short intervals, for half an hour at a time. Another bird at a distance will be doing the same, and the two appear to be answering one another. He also has another call, not so loud and piercing, but more melodious: a double note, repeated two or three times, with something liquid and gurgling in the sound, suggesting the musical sound of lapsing water. These various notes and calls are heard incessantly until the young are hatched, when the birds all at once become silent.
A hole in the trunk or branch of a large tree is used as a nesting- place, the entrance, if too large, being walled up with clay, only a small opening to admit the bird being left. At the extremity of the hole a bed of dry leaves is made. The eggs are five to seven in number, white, and spotted with brownish red, sometimes with purple. When the sitting-bird is interfered with she defends her treasures with great courage, hissing like the wryneck, and vigorously striking at the aggressor with her sharp bill.
The food of the nuthatch during a greater portion of the year consists of small insects and their larvae, found in the crevices of the bark; hence the bird is most often seen frequenting old rough-barked trees, the oak being a special favourite, more especially if it happens to be well covered with lichen. At times, when seeking its prey, its rapid and vigorous blows on the bark or portion of rotten wood can be heard at a considerable distance, and are frequently mistaken for those of the woodpecker. In autumn the nuthatch feeds largely on nuts and fruit-stones, and to get at the kernel he carries the nut to a tree, and wedges it firmly in a crevice or in the angle made by a forked branch, then hammers at the end with his sharp beak until the shell is split open and the kernel disclosed. Its love of nuts makes it easy to attract the bird to a tree or wall close to the house by fixing nuts in the crevices. If supplied regularly with this kind of food it soon grows trustful, and may even be taught to come to call, and even to catch morsels of food thrown to it in the air. Canon Atkinson, in his lively and interesting ' Sketches in Natural History,' has described the amusing manners of a pair of nuthatches which he thus made tame by feeding. Since his book was published, about twenty-five years ago, many persons have adopted the same plan with success.
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