Worcestershire Record No. 18 April 2005 p. 16-17


Garth Lowe

These attractive birds are now visiting garden feeders on a more regular basis. Their social nature has been observed for a long time, and the noisy twittering often signals yet another mass arrival. These can sometimes occur at regular times of the day. Peanuts were the original attraction, an odd choice for an insectivorous bird, but they were seeking the bits of peanut debris left by more vigorous feeders. More recently the provision of digestive biscuits has revolutionised the number of winter visits these small birds are making to our own garden, during the months from September to March.

On the wire mesh feeder tube containing whole biscuits, hanging only a metre from the window, seven have recently been observed. They are timid feeders and do prefer to feed at quieter times of day. From the number of visits the group makes, especially in cold weather, it does seem they have adjusted their perambulations in a sort of figure of eight. The biscuits now appear to be at the centre of their activities. This flock can also be recognised by the fact some of them are ringed.

After breeding in the summer months last year, the birds returned to feed in the week starting 19th September. but only one was seen to take food. Over the next few weeks the maximum numbers on the biscuits rose as follows; 3,1,3,5,4,6 and rose to seven before Christmas. This increase may well be the result of the younger birds learning from older ones. One other fact about these birds is there is no way to age them once the young are a few months old.

The milder weather in the New Year fooled the birds into thinking spring was going to be early! The numbers dropped as they paired up and drifted away. Suddenly, in late February, some really cold weather set in with light snowfalls, and numbers shot up again to ten individuals, as the group reformed. Other observers have noted that in cold weather the flock will huddle together for warmth at night, a fact that has also been recorded with wrens, but only in cases of severe weather. This nightly roosting of the tits is also an excellent way for all the birds to all get to know each intimately.

With the sudden onset of warm weather on the 17th March numbers fell back to a resident pair. Long tailed tits had already started building, one almost complete nest was found on the 18th March in a tall patch of broom, growing in the Knapp Reserve. It is also possible to tell when the local pair is sitting. If they turn up at a feeder with a bent tail, it is a sure sign they have been cooped up for a long period on eggs, in a very small nest.

The winter dusks produce the most interesting observations. As regular as clockwork the little flock appears, and seem to be having a last feed to set them up for the long night ahead. One difference with these late visits is the fact that they stay longer. With no competition on the biscuits, they are not disturbed. Some individuals actually stay even longer, a possible reason being they may have a nearby regular communal night roost, and know exactly where to go to catch up with their relations. An early dawn watch for a BTO feeding survey, also saw these birds arrive very promptly for their breakfast.

One evening a single bird was seen to stay for a long time, and even though a different flock was heard and seen across the road, it made no attempt to join them after feeding. One other interesting observation on the regular flock is the fact that at least three of them were also feeding here last winter. They were identified by the British Trust for Ornithology rings on their left leg. Looking back in my records two of them were ringed on the 29th February 2004. The rings were placed on the left leg instead of the usual right one, so they could be identified by sight if they returned, as ringed garden birds. One that was ringed on the right leg was subsequently caught on 27th November and was also first caught on the same date. By the 7th December most of the flock had been caught showing there were four from last February plus four new birds.

Their return after breeding and a summer break, also illustrates the fact that birds do have an excellent memory, with a good restaurant filed away for a cold winters day. From three ringed adult birds returning it can also be deduced that this flock is not made up of just two parents and their offspring. One or even two of the birds must have paired up and bred elsewhere, then returned to form the next family group. Other ringing studies have shown that usually all the flock are related to one another in some way, so they obviously have strong family ties.

They are fascinating little birds and give a lot of pleasure with their unique social activities.

Long-tailed Tits drawn by Ray Bishop

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