Spring Birds

An extract from the FOAF Newsletter, April 2022 (Valerie Whiteman)

Colourful, charismatic, common- what’s not to like about the Tit family? There’s Blue, Great, Coal and Long Tailed – although the Long-tailed Tit isn’t really a tit at all. Everyone knows the Blue Tit, the bird of our gardens: at the moment they are pairing up and you can see them chasing through the trees or hedgerows. They are the only bird species that has a blue head and back and a yellow chest, so they are very distinctive. In March or even earlier when it is mild, you will see them nest building. They nest in holes, or indeed in nest boxes. They feed their young on caterpillars and small insects so if it is cold, they can have a disastrous season, made worse because they only have one brood. The female lays an egg every day or so and doesn’t start brooding until the clutch is complete.

It’s amazing that the total weight of her eggs is heavier than she is. She broods alone, but the male will come and feed her and once the eight plus eggs hatch it’s all hands (or beaks) to the plough as they struggle to feed the hungry chicks. They are a prey species for many predators, so the fact that there are so many in Abbey Fields and elsewhere is a real success story.

Their bigger cousins are the Great Tits. They are the birds which call “teacher, teacher” and they look like larger Blue Tits with a black cap and a black stripe down their chests. There are fewer of them in Abbey Fields though they are still common. I have heard other birders say that if you hear a bird you don’t recognise singing something strange it is likely to be a Great Tit. They have up to forty calls, and one theory is that their songs are so varied because then their rivals think there are more birds in the area than there actually are.

A much shyer tit is the Coal Tit which you can recognise because it has a black cap with a white patch at the nape. They are mostly grey brown, much less colourful than the others, and tinier. You will know them if you have a seed feeder because they frequently come and fly away with seeds to cache. One of my most favourite birds, and one you see in Abbey fields especially in winter, is the Long Tailed Tit. Outside the breeding season they fly in flocks, like little darts. They are easily identified, because, as it says in the Field Guides, they are the only common small pink bird in the UK and their tail is longer than their body. This time of year you can see them hanging like acrobats up in the larch and birch trees, calling to one another. They build the most amazing hanging domed nests, made out of spider silk, moss, lichens and lined with feathers. Like Blue tits, they are heavily predated, and much scarcer.

The tit family are so often overlooked because they are common, but they are wonderful and very easy to watch in Abbey Fields, a real sign that spring is on its way.

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