Beautiful nuthatch (Sitta formosa)

Beautiful nuthatch foraging on trunk
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Beautiful nuthatch fact file

Beautiful nuthatch description

GenusSitta (1)

The aptly named beautiful nuthatch (Sitta formosa) is a large, dazzling bird. The beautiful nuthatch is streaked with varying shades of vivid blue, including cobalt-blue streaks on the head, and azure blue on the back, as well as whitish streaks on the side of the neck (2). The rest of the upperparts are black, apart from a brilliant broad blue stripe running from the shoulder feathers across the back and rump, and two narrow white stripes on the wings (3). The sturdy, long, straight bill of the beautiful nuthatch is blackish and the short legs are greenish (2) (4).

The calls of the beautiful nuthatch are a rapid high, unsteady ‘chit'it'it'it'it'it'it'it’ and a shorter, hesitant ‘chit-it chit-it chit-it’ and ‘chit'it-it, chirririt-it’ (3).

Length: 16.5 - 19 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: up to 10 cm (2) (3)

Beautiful nuthatch biology

Usually found singly or in groups of four to five individuals, the beautiful nuthatch forages high up in tall trees (4). Its strong toes and rather long legs enable it to climb around trees with ease (4).

The diet of the beautiful nuthatch consists of invertebrates, mainly arthropods, but also beetles and insect larvae. Prey is plucked from branches cloaked in lichens and epiphytes, as well as from more open branches (5). Like other nuthatches, the beautiful nuthatch probably also feeds on seeds and nuts, which may be wedged into a crack in bark or rock and hammered open with the strong bill. It is from this feeding behaviour that nuthatches get their name (4).

Although the breeding season of the beautiful nuthatch is not clear, an individual in Myanmar seemed ready to breed in April, and individuals in north-east India were recorded breeding in April and May (5) (4). The nest of the beautiful nuthatch is typically situated in a hole in a tree, two to eight metres off the ground. Leaves and bark chips form the base of the nest, which is then topped with a soft pad of fur, such as that of the bamboo rat. Each clutch contains around four to six white eggs, speckled with dark red spots (5).


Beautiful nuthatch range

The beautiful nuthatch has a broad range across central Asia, extending from the eastern Himalayas and hills of north-eastern India and Bhutan, through to the highlands of Myanmar and the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. There have also been reported sightings of this species in north-western Thailand and southern China (3) (5).


Beautiful nuthatch habitat

Evergreen forest at elevations between 350 and 2,400 metres is the preferred habitat of the beautiful nuthatch (3). During the summer season, the beautiful nuthatch typically occurs between 1,500 and 2,400 metres, descending to lower elevations during the winter months (5).

The beautiful nuthatch inhabits the middle and upper canopies of dense, broadleaved evergreen forest, where the trees are generally covered in mosses, lichens, orchids and other epiphytes (3).


Beautiful nuthatch status

The beautiful nuthatch is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Beautiful nuthatch threats

The primary threat to the beautiful nuthatch is forest loss, degradation and fragmentation, due to the conversion of its forest habitat for agriculture (3). Large-scale logging also poses a threat in some parts of its range, such as central Laos and northern Vietnam (3). Of particular concern is the logging of Fokienia hodginsii, a highly valuable timber species, in areas of the Annamite Mountains, as the beautiful nuthatch is often associated with this tree (5).


Beautiful nuthatch conservation

The beautiful nuthatch is legally protected in Thailand and all birds in the Sittidae family are protected in Myanmar, but there is no protection in China, India, Laos or Vietnam (5).

The beautiful nuthatch is known to occur in several protected areas which may afford it some level of protection, including Thrumsing La National Park in Bhutan, Buxa Tiger Reserve and Namdapha National Park in India, Phou Louay National Biodiversity Conservation Areas in Laos, and Huanglianshan Nature Reserve in China (3).

To ensure the future survival of this threatened species, it has been recommended that the beautiful nuthatch should receive legal protection in China, India, Laos and Vietnam (5). Sites that support key populations of this and other threatened species should also be identified and protected (3). In addition, widespread conservation awareness initiatives in hill and mountain communities should be initiated, with the aim to reduce habitat loss through shifting agriculture where plots of land are cultivated temporarily (3).


Find out more

Learn more about the beautiful nuthatch:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton). Epiphytes: plants that use another plant, typically a tree, for their physical support, but which do not draw nourishment from it.
Plants that use another plant, typically a tree, for their physical support, but which do not draw nourishment from it.
Evergreen forest
Forest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous trees, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, worms and spiders.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
A composite organism made up of a fungus in a co-operative partnership with an alga. Owing to this partnership, lichens can thrive in harsh environments such as mountaintops and polar regions. Characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2010)
  2. Jerdon, T.C. (1862) The Birds of India. Military Orphan Press, Calcutta.
  3. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
  4. Harrap, S. and Quinn, D. (1996) Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
  5. Collar, N.J., Andreev, A.V., Chan, S., Crosby, M.J., Subramanya, S. and Tobias, J.A. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

Image credit

Beautiful nuthatch foraging on trunk  
Beautiful nuthatch foraging on trunk

© John Holmes /

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