Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit

One of our most sociable and endearing garden birds, the long-tailed tit, will be seeking refuge in gardens this December. We humans love a good get together and December sees plenty of mixing and mingling as friends and families celebrate Christmas and the New Year. We are not alone – many birds also seek each other’s company over winter, flocks of finches flit between treetops in search of seeds and winter thrushes scour the ground for invertebrates.  

One tiny bird, however, takes sociability to a different level – the wonderful long-tailed tit. Few garden birds are more exquisite than the long-tailed tit. But for their disproportionately long tails, which slightly exceed the length of the rest of their bodies, these birds are truly tiny. Balls of these tumbling, see-sawing birds bounce from one garden to the next during winter, their high-pitched, rolling si-si-si-si-si calls, punctuated with more percussive, clipped notes, announcing their arrival. These vocalisations help flock members, which tend to be close relatives, keep in touch with each other as they move restlessly through trees and bushes, gleaning invertebrates and dropping down onto garden feeders.

Being very small, long-tailed tits are vulnerable to prolonged periods of harsh winter weather. Indeed, losses of up to 80% of their numbers have been recorded by BTO volunteers during particularly cold winters. Small birds lose heat more rapidly than larger ones owing to the fact that a larger proportion of their bodies is exposed to the elements. To ensure their survival, long-tailed tits need reliable access to energy-rich food during the short winter days.

This is where garden feeders can prove a lifeline. The small beak of the long-tailed tit is not proficient at handling large seeds. However, this species will swarm over suet-based products, which provide a quick calorific hit. Small seeds, bread crumbs, finely grated cheese and peanut fragments will also be taken. During spring, many fewer long-tailed tits are spotted in gardens as they move out into the countryside to breed. Long-tailed tits are very small, mainly black and white birds, which have almost spherical bodies and an oversized tail. Also, look out for attractive, pinkish markings on the breast and pink eye-rings. Both sexes look alike.

Richard Wesley (Lorn Natural History Group)

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