Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit CBC/BBS Trend 1966-2012 from BirdTrends Report
BirdTrends

The Long-tailed Tit is different to other tits. In fact, it isn’t really a tit at all, differing in its behaviour and appearance, and being more closely related to the bbalers of Africa and south-east Asia than our familiar Blue and Great Tits. It is easily distinguishable by its dainty size, long tail and patterned, soft-pink plumage. Long-tailed Tits are often found in parties of around 8-20 individuals, their distinctive bubbly ‘prrrt-prrrt’ calls revealing their presence.

Over the past 25 years the CBC/BBS trend has seen an increase of 79%, with a progressive increase in Long-tailed Tit abundance from the 1980s. Between 1995 and 2011, the Long-tailed Tit has shown the highest increase in urban areas, compared to areas such as deciduous and coniferous woodland.

However, between breeding seasons this species can experience wide fluctuations in numbers, underlining the role that severe winter weather may play. In extremely bad winters, numbers can fall by 80%.

Keeping company over winter

In the winter the birds are to be found in small groups, numbering from 6-8 birds up to 20, and occasionally reaching 50 individuals within a single flock. Prior to dusk Long-tailed Tits are very busy and active before heading off to roost in thick shrubbery, such as a hawthorn. As Long-tailed Tits lose a lot of energy because of their small body mass, they need to keep warm. In order to maintain their body temperature overnight, the birds huddle in small bundles.

Long-tailed Tit parties break up come spring, as birds pair ahead of the breeding season. When looking for a nest-site, Long-tailed Tits perform a hovering display that consists of vertical flight and the bird dropping back downwards. The laying date for Long-tailed Tits is 17 days earlier than it was in 1968 and clutches have become smaller, information we have gained because of the efforts of BTO Nest Recorders.

Building starts early

Long-tailed Tit nests can be found in a variety of locations; tight against the trunk of a forked tree, high up, or in a shrub like hawthorn or bramble and placed lower down.

The oval-shaped nests have a single entrance and are made out of moss, hair and cobwebs, then covered with lichens for camouflage and lined with hundreds of feathers. The nest is made by both parents quite early in the year (beginning in February), as they can take more than 3 weeks to build, and it is often left for some days once complete - a noticeable gap before egg-laying begins.

It is not unusual for active nests to have additional birds present, helping the resident pair to feed and rear the chicks. These helpers are usually related to the resident birds and are likely to have lost their own brood. Although well camouflaged, many nests are lost to nest predators like crows, magpies and even weasels, the latter taking more eggs and young birds in those years when small mammals are less abundant.

This Bird of the Month piece was produced by Evie Miller while on work experience at the BTO. Evie was part of a group of young people from A Focus On Nature (AFON) who presented at the BTO 2014 Conference.

More BirdFacts for this species Garden BirdWatch page for Long-tailed TitBirdTrends Report page for Long-tailed Tit

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