The Long-tailed Tit

The Long-tailed Tit

I often come across small groups of this splendid little bird on my country walks. You cannot but help be enthralled by the antics of the Long-tailed Tit as they fly and flit energetically through a hedgerow or tree canopy.

They are extremely acrobatic and will hang upside down on branches and other perches whilst searching for food. I often see them at the bird feeders in my garden where they generally arrive in groups, never staying too long as they always seem to be on the move onto the next garden or wood.

The Long-tailed Tit is a familiar bird of the countryside and is easily recognisable with its distinctive colouring of black white and pink plumage and a tail that is bigger than its body. It is a resident bird (which means it stays here all year around) and due to its diminutive size this means it can suffer badly in severe winters.

Long-tailed-tits are sociable birds
They are sociable birds and are normally found in small groups

On cold nights a group of them will often huddle tightly together in bushes and trees to keep warm.

At such a small size it is vital that Long-tailed Tits are able to stay warm. They are adapted to keep out the cold by “fluffing” up their  plumage, enabling them to hold in a layer of warm air.

Interestingly, Long-tailed tits are not real tits at all and are not related to our other titmice i.e. great or blue tits. They are actually related to south east Asian birds called babblers and they are the only member of this family to live in the UK.

The nest

Nest of long-tailed tit
Long-tailed Tit nest building

Also, whilst other tits nest in holes and crevices, the Long-tailed Tit builds a nest outside in bushes and brambles.

The Long-tailed Tit is a tiny bird of hedgerows, woodland, parks, gardens, heathland and commons. They are active feeders, hunting out insects and spiders among the smaller branches and leaves. In winter they are found in groups as they forage through the countryside

The Long-tailed Tit builds a wonderfully distinctive domed nest out of moss in a hedge, bramble or gorse bush and I have even seen one built in the fork of a tree. The nest is extremely well camouflaged  with cobwebs and lichen, and the nest is lined with as many as 1,500 feathers to make it soft for the eight to twelve eggs it lays.

It can take  several days for the nest to be completed and the adult bird will start with a shallow cup and then build the dome upwards and around itself whilst it sits inside the nest. It is built by both adults and when finished it is an avian architectural wonder and no other UK bird builds such a beautiful and complex nest.

However, these nests, although normally very well concealed, are often predated by rats, squirrels and other birds and sadly I have witnessed several destroyed nests over the years. These birds only have one brood each year so its important to have breeding success and its been known for birds, who have had their own nest destroyed, to help others of the species in building their nests and feeding the young. It is also believed that some youngsters from the previous years brood assist with the nest building. They normally lay between six to twelve eggs in the next, and its wonderful to see parents feeding newly fledged youngsters away from the nest with the cacophony of sound this produces.

Long-tailed tits are very acrobatic
The Long-tailed Tit is a very acrobatic little bird

Life isn’t easy

Long-tailed Tits are faring well at present but this doesn’t mean life is easy for them. The population in the UK is extremely vulnerable to the weather and very cold winters can result in a drastic drop in numbers. It has also been shown that wet weather in spring and autumn can have a detrimental effect on their survival rates.

Luckily Long-tailed Tits are able to bounce back relatively quickly following periods of bad weather, due to their laying a large number of eggs and potentially raising large broods. Due to milder winters of late, fortunately, the trend is an upward one at present, which is good news for us and for this lovely little bird.

Hopefully you will have Long-tailed Tits visiting your garden or you will be lucky enough to see them when you are out and about, but remember, Long-tailed Tits rarely do anything on their own so if you see one then there will almost certainly be others close behind.

Andy Stuthridge
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This article was written by
Andy Stuthridge

Born in Cyprus to Cornish Parents, Andy grew up in Cornwall. He joined the RAF as a Police Dog Handler and then subsequently Devon and Cornwall Police. Recently Andy retired from the Police after a career of nearly 30 years of service in Devon. Still living in Mid Devon since a young boy, Andy's had a great interest in wildlife and nature and in recent years has developed a passion for wildlife and landscape photography, specialising in photographing the wonderful wildlife and varied landscapes of the West Country. Andy has a particular love for Exmoor and Dartmoor, both of which are close to home and where many of his images are taken.