Species of the Month: December 2016 - Long-tailed tit

This year, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is running a new series taking a closer look at one key species of flora or fauna each month. For December, we are looking at the long-tailed tit.

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Image: Steve WaterhouseThe long-tailed tit is a very small, round-bodied bird. Its total length is 13-15cm, of which the tail is over half the length of its body. The bird’s wing span is 17-19cm. The adults (of both sexes) have black wings with pinkish markings and a long, narrow, black tail with white edges. The head has a white crown and a broad, black eye-strip that extends down the back of the neck. The bird’s underparts are pink-white, the legs are black-brown and it has a very small, black bill and pink eye rings. The colouration of the younger birds is duller.

Long-tailed tits have an undulating flight and bounce from one garden to the next during the winter. They busily flit from branch to branch, looking for insects and can sometimes be seen clinging upside-down to thin twigs. They feed mainly on insects, larvae and spiders, but will also eat berries and seeds during autumn-winter. They’re also increasingly being seen feeding from peanut feeders in gardens.

Image: Amy LewisThese very sociable and acrobatic birds announce their arrival with their soft, twittering song. They have high-pitched "tsee-tsee-tsee" calls, punctuated with more percussive, clipped notes ("tsirrup"). The birds often form noisy, excitable groups of up to 20 individuals.

During the non-breeding season (July - February), long-tailed tits form flocks of relatives and non-relatives, roosting communally. This flocking behaviour during the winter helps these small birds to conserve body heat. When the breeding season begins, individual pairs will attempt to rear their own young but, if a pair fails, they will help at the nest of a close relative instead. This process of cooperative breeding leads to greater success.

Long-tailed tits build enclosed, elastic nests made from moss, lichen, spiders’ webs, feathers and hair in bushes, hedges or trees; brambles and gorse are favourite places. The nests can take up to three weeks to build. When the nest is complete, the female lays and incubates the eggs which are white with purplish-red spots and have dimensions of about 14mm by 10mm.

Interesting facts:

  • The long-tailed tit has the longest tail of any British bird in proportion to its body.
  • Over 6,000 pieces are used for a typical nest.
  • Young birds undergo a complete moult to adult plumage before their first winter.

Where to see them

Long-tailed tits are found in deciduous woodland, hedgerows, scrubland, parks and gardens throughout the UK (except for the north and west of Scotland).

How to help long-tailed tits to thrive

They need reliable access to energy-rich food during the short winter days. Small seeds, bread crumbs, finely grated cheese and peanut fragments will be taken, but this species will swarm over suet-based products. The small beak of a long-tailed tit isn’t able to handle large seeds.

Being very small, long-tailed tits are vulnerable to prolonged periods of harsh winter weather. Overnight, they will bed down together in a thick shrub, such as hawthorn, to conserve their energy, so having such plants in your garden could be of benefit to them.

 

A wide variety of quality bird feed is available from Vine House Farm who also donate a percentage of each sale to the local Wildlife Trust.

Get in touch

If you spot a long-tailed tit – or more likely several - please do let us know! You can submit records online at www.herefordshirewt.org, email them to records@herefordshirewt.co.uk or write to Lower House Farm, Ledbury Road, Tupsley, Hereford HR1 1UT.

Image: Chris Lawrence