The nuthatch (Sitta europaea) can frequently be seen upside down, scrambling down a tree trunk or hanging from a bird feeder while pecking urgently to extract its favourite nuts and seeds. As its name implies, it loves nuts and, like squirrels and jays, frequently stashes nuts in chinks and crevices. This can cause problems for homeowners – I read one story of a nuthatch burying seeds in the cracks between patio pavers and in potted plants. If the bird didn’t return for all its buried food, the homeowners got its (unwanted) treasure of sprouting trees, shrubs and sunflowers.
Many of the nuthatch’s vernacular names refer to its habit of wedging nuts in crevices and striking them with its ultra-sharp beak: ‘nut topper’ and ‘woodcracker’ in Surrey, ‘nutcracker’ in Shropshire, ‘nuthack’ and ‘nut jobber’ from Berkshire, and ‘jobbin’ in Northamptonshire (‘job’ is from an old English verb meaning to peck or jab). The nuthatch’s other common names refer to its mud-plastering nest-building habits: ‘mud dabber’ from Somerset, and ‘mud stopper’ in various parts of southern England.
Cracking and eating nuts is a favourite human pastime at Christmas, and The Nutcracker a favourite Christmas-time ballet but I think, in terms of entertainment, Nature’s nutcracker has them both beat!