Latin name: 

Periparus ater

Coal tit by Jill Pakenham 

These delicate birds favour coniferous woodland

Coal Tits are small and rather delicate members of the Tit family, typically seen singly taking food away from hanging feeders when more dominant species have finished feeding.

The fine bill highlights a preference for coniferous woodland, where they can feed on seeds and invertebrates from cones and vegetation. As such, they tend to occur more frequently in gardens close to coniferous woodland than those located elsewhere.

Description

Coal Tits are slightly smaller than the Blue Tit, with olive-grey upperparts and white-buff underparts. Although in general appearance they are reminiscent of both Willow and Marsh Tit, they have a characteristic head pattern, with a black bib, white cheeks and a black cap that extends down to the base of the neck at the sides. In the middle of this black cap, running from just below the top of the head back down to the neck is a rectangular white patch, so this is one species where a back view can help identification. The calls of the Coal Tit are a bit like a weedy, higher-pitched version of the Great Tit, with a thin-sounding 'tsee-tsee-tsee' call and a basic song of 'teachoo-teachoo-teachoo' repeated several times.

Ecology

Coal Tits are often regarded as being a species of coniferous woodland, and while they do nest at higher densities in coniferous woodland than deciduous woodland, Coal Tits do occur in many other habitats, including gardens. The narrower, more slender bill is an adaptation to feeding in conifers.  Coal Tits begin nesting slightly earlier than Blue Tits and some time before Great Tits. They will use boxes with small entrance holes and there is some evidence to suggest they might prefer nest boxes with a narrow vertical slit to those with a round hole. Their smaller size means that they are often out-competed by the larger relatives when it comes to finding and defending nestboxes. Coal Tits prefer nestboxes mounted on conifers to those mounted on deciduous trees.

Behaviour

Coal Tits often carry food away from a feeding station to store elsewhere, a behaviour that is also seen in other tits (especially Marsh Tit) but to a lesser degree.

Reporting rate

Weekly reporting rate for Coal Tit

The use of gardens by Coal Tits is greater in those years when the Sitka Spruce seed crop is poor, something that has been revealed through the examination of BTO Garden BirdWatch data (McKenzie et al. 2007).