St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

October 2014: Spotlight on… Long-tailed Tits

Juvenile Long-tailed Tit at the Kingfisher Culvert - featured on BBC's Springwatch!

Juvenile Long-tailed Tit at the Kingfisher Culvert – featured on BBC’s Springwatch!

After the Robin, the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) is probably Britain’s favourite bird! Charismatically cute (!) this small bird is a frequent visitor to gardens – and to St Nicks!

Long-tailed Tit nest

Long-tailed Tit nest

We possibly have between 3 – 5 breeding pairs on the reserve. Nest building starts in March, usually fairly low down in thick shrubs or brambles. The nest is an incredibly complex, barrel-shaped affair, composed of thousands of feathers, moss and other items, bound together with, amongst other things, spiders’ webs. In 2014, we found one of these nests in a gorse bush near the playground (see photo left).

The barrel-shaped nest probably gives the dialect name of this bird, in Yorkshire and in other parts of England, of Bum-barrel! The 8 – 12 eggs are usually hatched in about 16 days – and then, sometimes, something unusual happens.

If another member of the pair’s family – a sibling or a cousin – is unpaired, then they will help to feed the brood. So you might see three birds entering the nest. What you won’t see is that the adults have to fold their long tails over their heads so that they can enter the restricted space inside the nest!

In the Autumn, and throughout the winter, the family groups, which can be 8 – 10 strong, merge to form winter feeding flocks, restlessly moving from one site to another. They feed mainly on insects and spiders, and occasionally seeds and buds.

You can often pick them up by first hearing their ticking contact calls. Click here to listen to a recording of these calls.

Long-tailed Tits often associate with other members of the tit family in these winter feeding flocks – and in 2014 we found a Tree Creeper, a mouse-like bird, climbing up the trunks of trees, searching for insects, associating with the Long-tailed Tits, along the Tang Hall Beck path. This is a bird which has seldom been seen at St Nicks!

Finally, here’s a selection of photos of Long-tailed Tits photographed at St Nicks – including one bird which had been ringed somewhere else.

From top left, clockwise: adult.. collecting nesting material.. two juveniles.. a ringed bird

From top left, clockwise: adult, collecting nesting material, two juveniles, a ringed bird

 

14 October 2014 | Categories: Spotlight on..., Wildwatch | Tags: Bum-barrel, long-tailed tit