The Marvel of a Long Tailed Tit's Nest - Wildlife.y2u.co.uk

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The Marvel of a Long Tailed Tit's Nest

Marion's Wildlife Notes
A fellow allotment holder showed my friend a long tailed tit's nest tucked within the thorny protection of her hedge. On going there a few days later, it was incredibly hard to see despite the still leafless vegetation. Eventually after a lot of peering my eyes made it out – a domed structure of natural colours snug within the bush. The long tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) that built it are endearing creatures – weighing only 7­9 grams and with a disproportionally long tail they are pinkish brown and white with a long black line above their eyes. The pair that built this nest will have begun their work in February/early March and taken around 3 weeks to complete it.

They begin with a platform of moss that is secured to thorny twigs or a fork in a tree, with spiders' webs. Next the oval nest sides are built up, again made of moss and fastened with cobwebs. The pair then turn to finding lichens, which are placed on the outside of the nest walls (and later its top) to act as camouflage. Then the birds complete the dome of the nest and an entrance hole– usually near the top. Last but definitely not least the birds turn to bringing in feathers, and lots of them! Most are used to line the nest but a few small ones are also placed around the entrance hole – probably for extra concealment. Finally the nest which is an impressive 18 cm (7”) deep is ready. Six to eight eggs are laid in late March to early April and take 14 days to hatch. The somewhat elastic property of the nest then enables it to expand as the nestlings grow.

The use of feathers and lichen by the tits is particularly interesting. Some birders have counted over 2,000 feathers in a nest. Although that may be exceptional, it appears not uncommon for over a thousand to be used. Where do they find such numbers? It seems that they collect many from where birds have died or been killed. Wood pigeon feathers feature a lot.

The use of lichens in urban areas by the tits was explored in more detail in a study between 2004 – 2006. This looked at breeding long tailed tits in the formerly heavily industrialised area along the Mersey valley from Runcorn and Widnes through to Warrington. Numbers in 2004 – 2006 were compared with breeding records from 1978­84. It was found that the increased number of long tailed tits breeding in the area in the intervening years was probably down to the improved air quality, which allowed for more lichen growth.

Despite lichens being generally used, one pair of tits are recorded as trying polystyrene in its place! Additionally although in Britain the birds predominantly use lichens, they will also use birch bark as another natural material where numbers of such trees occur.

All in all the task of nest construction is phenomenal given the tiny size of these birds, and the whole process and finished product are truly marvels of nature!

Marion
March 2015
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