You may recall here in late March a female nuthatch preparing an old woodpecker nest hole to use as her own. On 26th March she was seen taking mud to the old woodpecker hole and applying it in and around the entrance. She also carried wood chips which she stuck in the mud to help bulk it out. She does this to reduce the size of the entrance to minimise the risk of predation or another bird taking over the nest site. Twice a great tit was seen going in only to be chased out very aggressively by the male nuthatch. The male, distinguished by chestnut red flanks, keeps guard during the whole breeding process and will fend off any intruders. During the early stages he sang from just above the nest hole and from the top of the trees. The female continued to ‘mud up’ around the entrance and to watch her size the hole to fit her body exactly was intriguing. She would go in and then squeeze her body out slowly, presumably allowing the wet mud to adjust to her exact body shape.
On two days in April, 14th and 18th they were seen mating on a branch very close to the nest hole. It is not known if she had already started laying eggs by this time. Some birds mate up to 30 days before egg-laying, others just before and some during the egg-laying stage. Nuthatches usually lay 6-8 eggs and the female incubates them after having laid the last egg. Incubation lasts 15-16 days. During this time the male keeps guard and also occasionally feeds her at the nest hole. The female was certainly occupying the nest hole i.e. sitting on eggs, on 27th April when the male was seen to feed her at the nest hole three times at 20 minute intervals. She actually came out to see off a blue tit and went straight back in. Over the incubation period more often he was seen to ‘call for his lady’, peering in the hole and flying off closely followed by her and they would feed away for about 10 minutes before she returned to her duties.
On 12th May the female arrived at the nest hole a number of times with food for her newly hatched nestlings. Each time she was seen to dip down in to the hole and out and away. During these early stages of feeding the young the male wasn’t seen to help but was close by in the trees, occasionally being heard with a contact call or short song. The female occasionally went in the hole completely and brought out a fecal sac for disposal away from the nest, cleaning up after her young. As days passed, the male was also seen to feed the young. Feeding young nuthatches at the nest lasts for 23-25 days.
On 2nd June both adults were feeding at the nest hole and periodically a nestling would appear at the entrance awaiting delivery. Obviously the young were getting big enough to think about leaving. The next day fledging was in progress, with the young being coaxed out by the adults, both having food in their bills. An adult would call at the hole and hold on to the food working back on to a branch with a fledgling following to then receive the morsel. At least four of possibly 6-8 young nuthatches were seen coming out of the nest hole and up the tree trunk flitting about in the branches. The final act was the male entering the hole and exiting alone not to return. All gone. 26th March-3rd June: the privilege was all mine. Nature is wonderful, especially when she lets you in Updale Natural History Recorder