1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nuthatch

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NUTHATCH, in older English Nuthack, from its habit of hacking or chipping nuts, which it cleverly fixes, as though in a vice, in a chink or crevice of the bark of a tree, and then hammers them with the point its bill till the shell is broken. This bird was long thought to be the Sitta europaea of Linnaeus; but that is now admitted to be the northern form, with the lower parts white, and its buff-breasted representative in central, southern and western Europe, including England, is known as Sitta caesia. It is not found in Ireland, and in Scotland its appearance is merely accidental. Without being very plentiful anywhere, it is generally distributed in suitable localities throughout its range— those localities being such as afford it a sufficient supply of food, consisting during the greater part of the year of insects, which it diligently seeks on the boles and larger limbs of old trees; but in autumn and winter it feeds on nuts, beech-mast, the stones of yew-berries and hard seeds. Being of a bold disposition, and trees favouring its mode of life often growing near houses, it will become on slight encouragement familiar with men; and its neat attire of ash-grey and warm buff, together with its sprightly gestures, render it an attractive visitor. It generally makes its nest in a hollow branch, plastering up the opening with clay, leaving only a circular hole just large enough to afford entrance and exit; and the interior contains a bed of dry leaves or the filmy flakes of the inner bark of a fir or cedar, on which the eggs are laid. In the Levant occurs another species, S. syriaca, with somewhat different habits, as it haunts rocks rather than trees; and four or five representatives of the European arboreal species have their respective ranges from Asia Minor to the Himalayas and Northern China. North America possesses nearly as many; but, curiously enough, the geographical difference of coloration is just the reverse of what it is in Europe—the species with a deep rufous range, S. canadensis, being that which has the most northern range, while the white-bellied S. carolinensis, with its western form, S. aculeata inhabits more southern latitudes. The Ethiopian Region has as its representative of the group the Hypositta corallirostris of Madagascar. Callisitta andDendrophila are nearly allied genera, inhabiting the Indian Region, and remarkable for their beautiful blue plumage. Sittella, with four or five species, is found in Australia and New Guinea, whilst Daphnoesitta occurs in Mew Guinea. The nuthatches are placed in the Passerine family Sittidae, intermediate between the Paridae and the Certhiidae. (A. N.)