Skip to content
Advertisements

Long-tailed Tit Birds – More than Adorable

Long-tailed tits are adorable…they just are…

They are so adorable that they will easily distract from anything I attempt to write so let’s all take-in their fluffy cuteness before proceeding, shall we?

Image: Edwyn Anderton
Image: Edwyn Anderton
Image: Sergey Yeliseev
Image: Sergey Yeliseev
Image: Edwyn Anderton
Image: Edwyn Anderton
Image: Martha de Jong-Lantink
Image: Martha de Jong-Lantink
Image: Image: Marius Konrad Eriksen
Image: Image: Marius Konrad Eriksen
Image: Marius Konrad Eriksen
Image: Marius Konrad Eriksen

Now, before we are all driven to state of cute agression, let’s take a break and discover why this plucky little passerine is more than just a pretty face.

Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) are a common occurrence throughout Europe and Asia.  They are small, measuring a mere 13–15 cm in length with 7–9 cm of that length devoted to their tail.  During the non-breeding season, they can found in gregarious groups of around 20-30 individuals which spend their time noisily bouncing about woodland and parkland in search of arthropods.

Image: Sergey Yeliseev
Image: Sergey Yeliseev
Image: Wikimedia Commons, User: Nottsexminer
Image: Wikimedia Commons, User: Nottsexminer

Once breeding season rolls around, the groups splinter and eventually whittle down to monogamous breeding pairs.  Both the male and female subsequently set about the task of building a nest; and these birds are persistent and particular.

They construct their nest from four specific materials – lichen, feathers, spider egg cocoons (yes, you read that correctly), and moss and it has been reported that it can take around 6,000 individual pieces before the pair are satisfied with the construction.

The interior is then lined with over 2,000 feathers collected from the environment.  Pairs have even been spotted plucking the bodies of dead birds during feather supply runs if the opportunity presents itself.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, User: Nottsexminer
Image: Wikimedia Commons, User: Nottsexminer

After the nest is constructed, the business of egg laying begins with the female producing clutches of 8-15 eggs which will hatch into young Long-tailed tits that require about 14-18 days in the nest before joining their parents outside.

Yet, a burgeoning nest full of hungry young birds isn’t the Long-tailed tit’s greatest problem.  A very high predation rate means that only 17% of nests each season have success.  That leaves a lot of former parent birds out of work, but there’s an upside.

When a pair of Long-tailed tits suffers the misfortune of losing a nest, the pair will typically split and join the nesting efforts of their respective relatives.  The result is improved success rates for the remaining nests which benefit from the added family help.  These new familial units (composed of the parents, offspring, and relatives) will often go-on to form the base of the gregarious flocks that begin to appear around winter time.

Image: RSPB
Yikes! Good thing there are relatives to help! Image: RSPB

It’s an approach to reproduction that ensures a “family’s” evolutionary success in spite of the high predation rates.  If a “family’s” genes can’t move-on to the next generation through a particular pair of birds, those genes still have a chance of persisting through the offspring of that pair’s close relatives, especially if the pair lend a hand.

So next time you see a group of Long-tailed tits twittering in your trees, remember that it took about 6,000 bits of lichen/moss/spider cocoons, roughly 2,000 feathers, and the bird equivalent of a village to get each of them there.

Further Reading:
  • Long-tailed Tits – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  • Gaston, A. J. (1973) The ecology and behaviour of the Long-tailed Tit. Ibis, 115(3), pp.330-351. PDF Available
  • Hansell, Michael Henry (2007). Built by animals: the natural history of animal architecture. Oxford University Press. pp. 76, 77. ISBN 978-0-19-920556-1.
  • Hatchwell, B. J., et al. (1999) Reproductive success and nest-site selection in a cooperative breeder: effect of experience and a direct benefit of helping. The Auk, 116(2), pp.355-363
  • Mcgowan, Andrew, Ben J. Hatchwell, and Richard J. W. Woodburn (2003). “The Effect of Helping Behaviour on the Survival of Juvenile and Adult Long-tailed Tits Aegithalos Caudatus”.Journal of Animal Ecology 72 (3): 41–99.  PDF Available
Advertisements

One thought on “Long-tailed Tit Birds – More than Adorable Leave a comment

  1. We regularly get small flocks of long-tailed tits foraging in our garden in the winter, they are super little birds! One fact that you didn’t mention, which I think is important, is that they are not true “tits” (Paridae) but are members a different family (Aegithalidae).

    Like

%d bloggers like this: