If you enjoy watching wildlife and wandering in a beautiful rural environment, there is no better place locally than Dalzell Estate, Motherwell.
As you explore the many varied pathways, you are very likely to see grey squirrels, roe deer and many different bird species, all against a background of wild flowers and magnificent trees.
This article is to draw your attention to a particular species of bird found there which is a comparatively new arrival - the Nuthatch.
This species had inhabited the Scottish Borders for many years, but then started to extend its area gradually northwards, the first pair arriving in Dalzell in April 2005.
You can see from the photo (Plate 1) what a striking bird this is.
Fairly small and compact, but with a beautiful blue back, russet underside and a typical “bandit” face with the white divided by a thick black line ending in an impressively strong beak.
If you have a garden bird-feeder, you’ll certainly notice when one of these birds turns up. Apart from its appearance, it is quite a feisty bird and will readily chase off tits and other small birds.
Nuthatches nest in tree holes, either natural or man-made – even old woodpecker holes can be used. In Dalzell we have many oak trees which are by far the best for natural cavities and these are used by 90 per cent of the Nuthatch population.
The actual nest is simple, made from little bits of dead wood and often a layer of very thin Scots Pine flakes which it picks off from the upper branches of these trees.
In the 42 hectares of Dalzell there are currently 20 active Nuthatch nesting sites.
This really means that wherever you go in the estate, you are likely to be fairly close to some of the birds.
They give away their presence in two ways – sound and activity.
Firstly, the sounds Nuthatches make are really loud and arresting.
In winter there are only contact calls between the birds and this is heard as a repeated “tweet-tweet”, the kind of call we associate with the typical bird of cartoons.
However in the months of March-May we hear the real territory calls of the male which are loud and penetrating and heard a long way off. When we hear those calls we know that a nesting site is nearby.
Secondly, the activity of Nuthatches, especially in the breeding season, is eye-catching and very specialised.
The female uses mud to reduce the tree hole to a very small round entrance opening so that predators such as woodpeckers can’t rob the nest(Plate 2).
She will then carry in the nest materials, and you can see that these activities will occasion many flights back and forth to and from the nesthole and make it easy even for a casual observer to watch this species.
Later when the young are due to be fed, both parents will then be making repeated trips with spiders, insects and grubs.
Dalzell woodlands are fortunate to have this very high density of such an interesting bird.
They are not a shy species and will usually ignore watchers on a pathway near the nest.
Nuthatches will visit any gardens in the adjoining housing areas if peanuts are on offer, and usually feed hanging upside down (Plate 3), so why not put a feeder out and you might be lucky enough to attract them.
To learn more about nuthatches visit www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/nuthatch-family.