• Chris Pendleton

Long-tailed tits



It's been one of the great surprises and joys for us birders and nature lovers that Long-tailed tits have become more common over the last few decades. When I was young they were considered unusual birds to find in gardens although I did sometimes come across them in the more open woods and on the common I used to haunt. I guess it's had something to do with the fact that they've learnt to come to bird feeders. They lay up to 15 eggs in a single clutch so if conditions are right their numbers can increase quickly.


And what a nest it is that they lay all those eggs in. Some years ago the sadly-departed Brackley naturalist Bill Readman, gave me a vacated nest he's found. It was an exquisite dome-shaped structure and appeared to have been knitted together with spider gossamer. Despite being soft and flexible it was remarkably strong and was beautifully camouflaged with an outer layer of grey lichen. Inside it was full of feathers.


All our other species of titmice, as the Victorians called them, nest in tree holes and it's thought the Long-tail's nest building talent lets it exploit, without competition, good but tree-less habitats such as scrub and heath land. Endearingly, if a Long-tailed tit finds itself without a mate it'll usually join another pair and help raise their family.


In winter they roam around the woods and gardens in loose restless flocks and I said will come to peanuts and fat balls, but they seldom seem to hang around for long. Our local and celebrated Northamptonshire poet John Clare knew them as 'bumbarrels' and celebrated their wandering nature in his sonnet, ‘Emmonsails Heath in Winter‘.


'And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove

Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain

And hang on little twigs and start again'.


Long-tailed Tits are undeniably cute and often very tame too, and I've even heard of people persuading them to take food from the hand. They seem to be attracted to windows and will often hover right against the pane. Maybe they are attracted by their reflections or it may just be they know one of their favourite foods of spiders can be found in the crevices of the window frame.


First published in Four Shires Magazine


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Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom

©2018 Chris Pendleton, Buckinghamshire, UK.