Garden Wildlife blog #6

Hello everyone, 

Another week in lockdown, another garden wildlife blog, I hope you enjoy it. This week we are focusing on a popular garden visitor, or visitors I should say.

 Let’s venture into the world of the tits. In the UK there are six species of breeding tits, including; blue tit, great tit, coal tit, crested tit, marsh tit and willow tit. These species form the family known as Paridae. Long-tailed tits and bearded tits are not actually true tits and belong to two separate families. Tits are small social birds, often in mixed flocks, and are among the most persistent and successful visitors to gardens. Although some are more common than others; according to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the blue tit and great tit are the more common garden visitors out of all the tits, each reaching the top 10 for most recorded garden birds in the UK.

The success of each species that breeds in the UK varies. The well-known blue tit for example, is well adapted to man and gathers in the UK with an estimated breeding population of 3,600,000. The great tit follows with a population of 2,500,000, which is then tailed by the coal tit with 680,000. However, the marsh tit, willow tit and crested tit are less abundant. There are roughly 41,000 marsh tits, which would appear abundant in comparison to its lookalike the willow tit; willow tits have a red conservation status label with only 3,400 breeding pairs. There are current conservation projects underway trying to learn more about willow tits and their habitat requirements in an attempt to help increase their numbers. The crested tit on the other hand appears with only 1,500 breeding pairs in the UK, and it is only found in Scotland. Although numbers greatly increase in the winter months.

The true tits are generally similar in size and shape, with most having short stumpy legs and a sturdy bill. The size and shape of their bill suits their omnivorous diet of insects in the summer, a wide range of fruits and berries in the winter, and for some the nuts, seeds and fat balls that we provide in our gardens. Many of us see them regularly in our gardens, and many rely of our gardens for places to breed and find food. Interestingly, University of Oxford worked on a collaborative project that founded new research suggesting certain British birds have evolved longer beaks as a result of our love for feeding them, including tits. Relatives on mainland Europe have been found to differ in beak shape and size, slightly. This is because over here we really like to feed birds and they have adapted to the provision of that food source.

Overall tits as a group of birds are well distributed. They are found throughout Eurasia, Africa (except the Sahara) and North America. Most species will nest in tree holes or similar, including artificial tree holes (i.e. nest-boxes). These nest-boxes prove to be popular to blue tits and great tits and have resulted in great tits in particular becoming one of the most studied birds in the world, with detailed research on wild great tit populations been ongoing for nearly 100 years. Most tits are all year-round garden feeders, but you may notice an increase in numbers from October onward, which is the migratory period in which birds fly from colder climates to warmer climates.

Since this blog is to bring you closer with the wildlife in your garden, well focus now on the two most popular tits. Blue tits are a colourful bird, with a blue cap and white cheeks, a greeny-blue back, yellow belly and blue wings and tail. There is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes, and a lot that happens before our eyes, but we don’t have the capacity to see it all. For example, blue tits can see ultra-violet (UV) light. The blue crown on their heads glows more brightly under UV light, and it is thought that male blue tits will select females based on the brightness of their crowns, with the notion that they will make fitter mothers. As well as a common garden visitor, the blue tit is also a bird of woodlands and parks. They will happily use garden nest boxes, favouring nest boxes with a small entrance hole (typically 25cm in diameter). They usually have only one brood per year, known as being single-brooded, but have large clutches typically ranging between 8 - 10 eggs. As well as enjoying the treats provided by via our feeders, blue tits are active hunters and love a scrumptious insect or spider.

Being the largest of the UK’s tits, the first thing you notice about the great tit is its size. They also have a conspicuous plumage, with an obvious black head, white cheeks, green back, yellow belly and black stripe down its breast. Like in the blue tit, a great tits plumage plays a role in the mating behaviour expressed when selecting a mate. For example, the black stripe on the belly of male great tits is broader than it is on females. It is thought that the stripe on the males belly is an indicator of reproductive success, i.e. the females are more attracted to males that have a wider stripe and they are likely to be more successful breeders as a result. The females construct the nest alone, making a nest suitable to house between 6 – 15 eggs. They will also take to garden nest-boxes and happily raise their broods in them. However, they are more dominant and can sometimes force smaller birds away (this is why blue tits prefer nest boxes with small entrance holes, so that they don’t get pushed out).

If you want to attract both birds to your garden, you need to provide a buffet of seeds, nuts and insects (either through having natural plants that live insects are attracted to, or by providing alive/dried mealworms). Nest boxes will also attract tits, especially if you place the in the right places and have the right size entrance holes. Find out more about providing the right nesting conditions using this link

Finally, considering it is #Internationaldawnchorus day this Sunday (4th May), why not listen out for tits in your garden or on your walk, as well as other birds. The great tit has a ‘teacher teacher’ call and the blue tit has a ‘tsee tsee tsee’ song. Click this link to learn their bird song in more detail

Thanks for reading, take care and stay safe,