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Why Does a Nuthatch Eat Upside Down?

Why Does a Nuthatch Eat Upside Down?

Among all birds in your backyard, nuthatches are the most unique creatures. Why? It’s because they distinctively walk and eat upside down. Did you ever wonder why nuthatches eat upside down? Let’s break down the reasons behind their unique behavior right below! 

Do nuthatches hang upside down?

Nuthatches have body adaptations to walk differently than others. They are officially called upside-down birds due to their head-first walking stance. They use their first claw finger, called hallux, to grab the surface and walk upside down. 

Going a step ahead, nuthatches often hang upside down using these body features. They hang down from branches and bird feeders without hassles. Nuthatches often hang upside down from trees and branches when eating and foraging food in the wilderness. So, yes, nuthatches hang upside down, thanks to their unique physical adaptation. 

Moving on, let’s know how nuthatches eat to know these tiny birds better. 

How do nuthatches eat?

You already know that nuthatches can easily hang upside down due to their physical abilities. However, it isn’t a fun activity. They use their specialty to solve a crucial life purpose – eating and foraging. 

Nuthatches eat in a very interesting manner. You will most often see nuthatches hanging upside down from your feeder and eating seeds or suet without complications. 

As discussed earlier, these birds have special body features that allow them to hang upside down. They use these specialties to eat food in an upside down manner. However, it’s not always for a nuthatch to eat upside down. They might walk or eat otherwise without hanging downwards. It’s a matter of choice for the birds to use their special abilities for some purposes. 

Now, you might think, why do nuthatches use their abilities to hang and eat upside down? Below you’ll find the reasons! 

Reasons why a nuthatch eats upside down

You already know that a nuthatch eats upside down. Have you ever wondered why nuthatches eat upside down? Here are some reasons. Have a look! 

1. They get a different view eating upside down

Nuthatches have learned to eat upside down to get a different view. It’s a comfortable posture for these birds to eat and find food they love. They can see food in a better way when eating upside down. So, they can choose their food more efficiently. For example, they can see more attractive and nutritious food particles when hanging upside down from a suet feeder. 

Also, they can see hidden nuts and pulp when eating upside down. So, they will never go hungry with a different eating style. This adaptive nature of nuthatches make them more suited for living, collecting food, and gaining nutrition in harsh conditions. 

2. It makes food drip down to them

Nuthatches eat upside down with their upward beaks for another striking reason. Apart from collecting nutritious food, the upside down stance helps them remove debris from their food particles. Isn’t that interesting? 

They eat with such a peculiar stance that the food drips to them. Nuthatches have a hyoid arrangement in their bodies, which is a built-in rain cover that allows them to catch raindrops.

The moisture drops are then stored by these birds in their gullets, where they combine to form larger drops that eventually flow down into the stomachs. The nuthatch can drop food like nuts or seeds without having to first bat them against trees or leaves to remove any debris because of its upturned bill.

3. Less competition for food

Most nuthatches flock in groups of other birds. It’s an adaptive behavior to keep predators away from themselves. You will often see nuthatches flying in flocks of woodpeckers, chickadees, tufted titmice, and brown creepers. 

However, when they flock with other birds, the competition for food increases dramatically. It’s important for nuthatches to learn a unique eating style to get food before other birds. Such a style must cut down the competition for nuthatches when other birds having common diets are closer to them. Thus, nuthatches have developed an upside down eating style. 

It helps them get food quicker than other birds like woodpeckers and cut down the competition for food, despite being smaller in size. 

4. Eating with protection over themselves

Sometimes, the upside down eating habit among nuthatches help them in other ways. Apart from seeing and finding food faster, hanging upside down helps them eat comfortably. 

For example, nuthatches might hang off from branches to eat insects hidden in the tree trunks. The branches from which the bird hangs can act as a shade to protect the little creatures from rain. So, nuthatches can enjoy a treasured treat of insects during the rainy season,  when they crawl out, without getting wet. 

Similarly, light rain showers won’t affect the tiny nuthatches from getting distracted away from eating from your suet feeders. If you use upside down suet feeders, the nuthatches can attach themselves from the base and eat suet with the feeder acting as a rain shade for the small birds. 

5. Reach hidden food easily

The little nuthatches have a highly adaptive body. They have sturdy beaks with upside down hanging ability to reach places where other birds cannot. Their hunting and foraging style revolves around getting their beak in crevices and breaking food particles for themselves. It’s better achieved when hanging upside down. 

Nuthatches hang upside down from trees to eat their favorite meal. They can pierce through and dig deeper into cavities to get delicious portions when eating upside down. Once their robust beaks reach their desired place, they can bring out insects, eat fruit pulp, or break through nuts without difficulties. 

Hanging and eating upside down is not a habit for nuthatches. Rather it’s a survival skill they have learned during evolution. These reasons make hanging upside down an essential aspect in a nuthatch’s life. 


Nuthatches are known for their unique behavior. And it’s perfectly normal with many supporting reasons. Since they walk and hang upside down, they have mastered surviving in a harsh condition. So, next time you see a nuthatch walking upside down, you know the reason behind their habit.