This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
Nuthatch, a subfamily of tenuirostral birds of the creeper family, scattered over North America, Europe, and India and its archipelago. In the typical genus sitta (Linn.) the bill is entire, about as long as the head, slender, compressed, straight, and sharp-pointed, with the gonys long and ascending; nostrils in a groove, covered by bristles directed forward; wings long and acute, reaching nearly to end of tail, the first quill being very short, and the third and fourth about equal and longest; tail short, broad, and nearly even; tarsi about equal to middle toe, strong and scutellated; toes long, the outer much longer than the inner, the hind toe the longest, and all armed with sharp and curved claws. Nearly 20 species are described. They prefer dense woods, where they run rapidly up and down the trunks and branches of trees in spiral circles, examining the crevices in the bark for spiders and insects; in winter they approach houses, and feed upon seeds, grains, nuts, and other vegetable food. The largest of the American species is the white-bellied nuthatch (S. Caro-linensis, Gmel.), about 6 in. long, with an extent of wings of 11, and the bill along the gape five sixths of an inch; the bill is black, and iris dark brown; general color above ashy blue, with top of head and neck black; under parts and sides of head to above the eyes white; under tail coverts and tibial feathers brown; concealed primaries white.
This is a bold, active, and familiar bird, though generally living in retired woods; the nest is made in the hole of a decayed tree; the eggs, five or six, are dull white, spotted with brown at the larger end; the flight is rapid, and at times protracted; like others of the family, they are fond of roosting head downward. This species is spread over eastern North America to the highest central plains, replaced to the west by a variety which differs chiefly in the more slender bill; in the southern states two broods are hatched in a season; the notes are very nasal. The red-bellied nuthatch (S. Canadensis, Linn.) is 4½ in. long, with an extent of wings of 8 in.; the upper parts are ashy blue, with the top of the head black, a white line above and a black line through the eye; chin white, and rest of under parts brownish rusty. The eggs are white, sprinkled with reddish dots. This very restless and active bird is spread over North America from South Carolina to Nova Scotia, from the Atlantic probably to the Pacific. Some remain all winter in the northern states, coming into the roads and farm yards in search of seeds.
The European nuthatch (S. Buropma, Linn.) is one of the largest of the genus, being 6 in. long, with an extent of wings of 10¼, and bill three fourths of an inch; the upper parts are bluish gray, with the throat and cheeks white, loral space and a band behind the eye black; lower parts light reddish yellow, and sides brownish red. Its manners are the same; the tail is not used as a support either in ascending or descending trees. It is sometimes kept in wire cages for its activity, cunning, and drollery. The bill of the nuthatches is so powerful that it is used for breaking the shells of nuts, which they fix in a cleft or hollow, whence they are sometimes called nutcrackers, a name which properly belongs to the genus nucifraga. The French call them torche-pots, from their habit of plastering up with yellow clay (torchis) the apertures of holes in trees which are too open to make comfortable nests. Unlike the woodpeckers, they descend trees head foremost, in which they must find great assistance in the long hind toe.
European Nuthatch (Sitta Europoea).