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The Nuthatch Name

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Have you ever thought about the derivation of the Red- and White-breasted Nuthatch’s common name? It comes from their habit of wedging a nut, acorn, etc. into a tree’s bark, and by repeatedly striking the nut, “hatching” or exposing the seed within it.

Many of these seeds are then stored in bark furrows for later consumption. In one study it was found that nuthatches spend more time caching husked than unhusked seeds (71% of sunflower seeds cached were husked). This inevitably would lower the expenditure of energy and time spent when consuming the cache later in the season. Hiding time, and time and distance flying from feeders to cache sites were longer when nuthatches hoarded husked than unhusked seeds, perhaps indicating their increased value to the birds. (photo:  White-breasted Nuthatch with husked sunflower seed)

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10 responses

  1. Marilyn

    Another tidbit!
    Do nuthatches cache their winter sustenance where differently-shaped bills can’t pry them out?

    December 6, 2016 at 8:00 am

  2. Penny March

    Any thoughts on when we can start feeding them this year? There is a bear on Mt Tom and I am waiting for bedtime!

    December 6, 2016 at 8:02 am

    • I am feeding now, but taking the feeders in at night…I would guess that after two weeks of sub-freezing temperatures, it might be safe to leave them out day and night, but no guarantee!

      December 6, 2016 at 8:05 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    Fascinating! I wonder how many bird names – such a pleasure to know the names of things – derive from behaviors. There was a family on IAH a while back that called juncos “snow buttons.” I always think of them like that, as they gather for the cold season.

    December 6, 2016 at 8:39 am

  4. Very interesting tidbit, thank you! Since a pair of RB’s found us this fall (a rarity here in Concord) I’ve been watching all the nuthatch activity more carefully and noticed the coming and going from the same tree to our second story feeder and back with time spent on the trunk. I wondered what they were doing over there. Mystery solved.

    December 6, 2016 at 9:06 am

  5. Ray Mainer

    I’m confused. Does “husked” mean they have taken the husk off or that the seed still has the husk on it. It seems that “unhusked” should mean there is no husk. Am I correct?

    December 6, 2016 at 10:22 am

    • “Husked” means the outer shell has been removed from the seed. Sorry for the confusion!

      December 6, 2016 at 4:25 pm

  6. Jennifer Farquhar

    How well do nuthatches remember their cache sites? Do they reuse them year after year? I assume squirrels and other animals find these cache sites. Can nuthatches recover the majority of their store?

    December 6, 2016 at 11:52 am

  7. Dianne Rochford

    Such interesting info. Thanks for all seasons,

    :-), Dianne >

    December 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm

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