In my eyes the Velvet-fronted Nuthatch is one of the prettiest birds of Bangladesh.
The nuthatch group of birds (genus Sitta) can be found in North America, Europe and Asia, with sparse presence in Africa. They are passerine birds, that is - they can perch on trees. There are twenty four species of nuthatches in the world. The name comes from their fondness for hazelnut trees in Europe.
Nuthatches are omnivorous. They eat mostly insects, larvae and spiders as well as vegetable matter, nuts and seeds.
Nuthatches climb trees in a distinctive fashion. They can climb vertically up tree trunks like many other birds such as woodpeckers. However, they have the rare ability to run down tree trunks headfirst. I have also seen them proceed sideways while hanging upside down from a branch.
While climbing they pause and search for prey using their bills to search under the bark and inside cavities. They also grab food from the surface of trunks, branches and twigs. They are able to turn their necks in unexpected angles to help with this search.
Nuthatches do not migrate; they live within a well-defined home territory “owned” by a small group. They nest in cavities in trees or rocks, using a variety of techniques and material. To discourage unwelcome guests, some of them rub noxious insects around the nest hole as a repellent.
The Velvet-fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis) is one of two nuthatches seen in Bangladesh. It is about four inches long and weighs less than an ounce. Its global range is South, East and South East Asia. In Bangladesh, it is seen in the forests of Dhaka, Khulna and Sylhet division.
Our second nuthatch is the Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch which is far less common.
Until recently, most of the nuthatches I photographed were abroad. In Hokkaido, Japan, I found the grey-and-white Eurasian Nuthatch looking for food by poking into the snow covered tree trunks and turning its head into impossible angles. The one Velvet-fronted Nuthatch I photographed in Satchori, Bangladesh, had moved too swiftly for a decent picture.
Then, last month, during a trip to Sundarban, our group saw an entire flock of Velvet-fronted Nuthatches as we walked in a grove of Keora trees near Kotka visitor center one afternoon.
At first we spotted one and thought it was alone; to my delight we discovered many more as we walked across the grove. They did not appear shy and I could approach them to within five or six feet.
I watched them as they moved quickly up and down the trees, describing spirals around the trunks, pulling out cobwebs and soft moss from the trunk or branch before zeroing in on a tiny morsel of protein. A short flight to the next tree followed.
In the late afternoon light, the colours of their purple-blue back, yellow eyes and red bills played off each other. I will remember this colourful afternoon for a very long time.
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