Have you seen 'Old King Coal'?

Coal Tit graph

Photo: John Harding

One of Britain’s most diminutive birds, the Coal Tit, is delighting an unprecedented number of householders this winter, latest results from the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey reveal.

The acrobatic Coal Tit normally visits around half of gardens during November and early December, but this year nearly three quarters have been frequented. This delicate bird, with its streaky black and white head markings and clean, sweet voice, has been turning to bird feeders as seeds in its favoured coniferous habitats have proved hard to find.

As well as patchy natural seed production this year, the recent wet weather has also not helped Coal Tits. Rain causes the cones of conifers to close, making the seeds therein inaccessible to them. Coal Tits have visited more gardens in the last few weeks than during the same period in any of the past 17 years of the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey.

Coal Tits bring plenty of activity into gardens, as they dash restlessly to and from feeders. During autumn they spend much of their time storing food to ensure that they have plentiful supplies for the winter ahead. Research shows that they can remember such hiding places for around four weeks, so look out for them retrieving these morsels in the depths of winter.

Other wonderful birds, including Goldfinch, Bullfinch and Nuthatch, are also amazing householders in unusually high numbers at present. With many natural foods seeming to be scarce, this winter is set to be one of the most exciting ever for garden bird enthusiasts.

If you do not take part already, please help us to chart the fortunes of ‘Old King Coal’ and other birds through BTO Garden BirdWatch. For a free enquiry pack, please email gbw [at] bto [dot] org.