Nuthatches and woodpeckers

An old ash tree probably suffering from ash dieback, has three woodpecker holes in its dying wood. The middle hole is occupied by a pair of great tits that carry in beakfuls of moss. The other two holes are being inspected by a pair of nuthatches but also, from time to time, a pair of green woodpeckers. There is more than a hint of competition but, whilst the nuthatches seem unflustered by the watcher on the steep bank of bluebells opposite the upper hole, the woodpeckers are clearly put off; so the story is not straightforward to tell.

The male, well I presume the male, nuthatch is very active and vocal and on one occasion carries a huge dead stick, but for what purpose is not clear as it is not ideal nest material. Maybe he is simply showing off?

The male nuthatch appears on and around the tree with the three holes with great regularity in the early morning and calls persistently. Some of the louder calls involves throwing his head back and, as described a century ago, serenading the sky.

After which, both holes are inspected by one and sometimes both the pair. This involves peering in, entering and then checking the entrance. Sometimes the male tries the top hole then scuttles down and does the same to the bottom hole. The top hole is much bigger and possibly preferred but the choice is not yet fixed. On one occasion, the woodpecker chases the nuthatch from the upper hole during the briefest of flypasts, resulting in a bout of frenetic nuthatch calling. The woodpeckers are shy and only visit briefly, staying high in the trees or hiding on the far side of the tree trunk; their presence always causes the nuthatches to start calling.

The male nuthatch works the branches around the nest tree and quickly finds grubs under bark and from beech buds and proffers them after a brief and dizzying chase around a branch to the female.

A day later and on a bright evening of quiet calm the nest holes are deserted. Will the nuthatches succeed or will the woodpeckers, or will neither and the great tits be left in peace?

Published by Steve Parr

Professional ecologist and amateur photographer. Love to travel and explore.

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