EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOU #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.
This week, it is TITS
In the UK the tit family is a family of two extremes, including as it does a couple of our most widespread, familiar, garden birds and also a couple of our most localised birds. Most of us (except those of us on certain Scottish islands) will have no difficulty seeing Great Tits and Blue Tits, perhaps every day. And the tiny Coal Tit is also very widely distributed, though with a bit more of a preference for coniferous forests.
The trouble makers, which present something more of a challenge to anyone building a year list, are the very similar Marsh and Willow Tits and the Crested Tit.
All are resident birds, so time of year is not a vital consideration. However, out of the breeding season, all species will readily join up in roving foraging flocks. And, after all, without leaves on the trees, all woodland species are easier to see.
Mainly a bird of England and Wales, the Marsh Tit is the commoner of the two very similar ‘brown’ tits, with just over 40K pairs in the UK. But they are on the decline. They are birds of broad-leafed woodland (not really marshes) and are best identified by their ‘pitchoo’ and ‘chickadee-dee-dee’ calls, which are usually the means by which they are detected in the firs place.
Willow Tits also venture into south-west Scotland, but have a similar national distribution to Marsh Tits, though in practice, are much more localised, and have a total population of only 3,400 pairs. When you consider that they are a British subspecies (kleinschmidtii), that is a disturbingl;y low number of individuals. Willow Tits are generally found in more damp localities than Marsh Tits, including carrs. However, the habitat is nowhere near as reliable an ID feature as the call, a buzzing ‘chay chay chay’, slower and more nasal than Marsh Tit’s equivalent calls.
Willow Titis can still be found at site sin the north-east of England and in some counties, such as parts of Leicestershire, they are easier to find than Marsh Tits. In others, such as Cambridgeshire, where two decades ago there was a regular breeding population, they are ‘extinct’ as breeders.
Tits are a pretty group of birds, but none of of our species comes close to the charm of the Crested Tit. This is partly because it is a scarce and localised bird, largely restricted to the Caledonian pine forests of the Scottish Highlands. But it is also because it is a very nicely marked bird, with a lovely crest. Crested tits produce a gentle trilled call, a little like shaking one of those squeaky, tweety boxes that used to entertainment children a generation or two back. They have an interesting way of tumbling down lichen covered pines, to search at lower levels for invertebrate material to eat.
All photos from Alamy