Long-tailed Tit

Latin name: 

Aegithalos caudatus

Long-tailed Tit by Jill Pakenham 

Long-tailed Tit by Jill Pakenham

Long-tailed Tits are small and delicate looking birds, with beautifully subtle plumage and (as the name suggests) a long tail.

Often seen in small flocks, these birds are delightful visitors to gardens where they use hanging peanut feeders and fat balls.

Description: 

This species has a very different appearance to the other tits and can easily be separated from them by its long, narrow tail, small size and colouration. The general appearance is one of a black and white bird with pink and dusky tones, incredibly acrobatic in nature and with a distinctive shape in flight of a small pale ball followed by a long tail.

In adults, the head is white, with a broad black eye-stripe that extends back down the neck; the upperparts, wings and tail are dark with areas of pink, while the underparts are a dirty white, tinged with pink. Young birds are duller in colouration than adults, the black being replaced by a dark brown and the pink replaced by white. These young birds undergo a complete moult just a few weeks after leaving the nest and so it is impossible to separate them from adults after they have undergone this moult.

Long-tailed Tits are usually seen in extended family parties of 8-20 individuals and these mobile groups typically give themselves away through their characteristic contact calls. This call is a sharp ‘tsurp’, repeated several times. Once heard, it is easily remembered and often the first indication that a small group of Long-tailed Tits is in the area.

Ecology: 

The Long-tailed Tit is found within deciduous woodland, in hedgerows and gardens, but is scarce in coniferous woodland. Historically, Long-tailed Tits were regarded as rare visitors to bird tables, but Garden BirdWatch results (together with those from the Garden Bird Feeding Survey) have shown an increase in the use of gardens and the food we provide. As a small bird, the Long-tailed Tit can suffer high mortality levels during particularly cold winters. During the winter months, these birds will roost together in an attempt to reduce heat loss and many individuals can pack into a nestbox or roosting pouch.

Behaviour: 

Long-tailed Tits begin breeding earlier in the year than other tits, and construction of the elaborate domed nest may begin in late February in southern England. The nests are often placed high up in the fork of a tree or lower down in a thorny shrub, like Hawthorn. The nest is made of moss, woven together with spider webs and hair, camouflaged on the outside with lichens and lined with an average of 1,500 feathers.

Nests built early in the breeding season can take up to three weeks to complete, those built at the end of the breeding season can be completed within a week. Additional birds that help to rear the young can join a breeding pair of long-tailed tits. These may be failed breeders, perhaps related to the breeding pair.

Reporting rate: 

Long-term pattern of garden use by Long-tailed Tits, as revealed by BTO Garden BirdWatch

Long-term pattern of garden use by Long-tailed Tits, as revealed by BTO Garden BirdWatch