LONG TAILED TIT (Aegithalos caudatus)
This delightful little bird (one of Britain’s smallest) is easily recognised with its pink, blackish and dull white colouring and, in particular, its long tail which forms over half its total length. Single birds are rarely seen. Out of the breeding season, it usually travels in family groups of up to a dozen or more, including aunts and uncles as well as well as the year’s young and their parents. The groups may be seen flitting from tree to tree in follow-my-leader style (it has been described in Birds Britannica as “a succession of whirring sticks with globular, pink ping-pong ball foreparts”). Although mainly insectivorous, in winter long-tailed tits may be frequently be seen in gardens feeding on nuts and other items – it’s quite a sight to see perhaps half a dozen together on a nut-basket with their tails sticking out in all directions.
Being such a tiny bird, it is very vulnerable in prolonged bad winter weather. Many individuals keep warm by roosting together in a tight ball.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this bird is its beautiful nest, a ball-like structure with a tiny entrance hole, intricately built of wool, moss, spiders’ webs, lined with as many as 1500 feathers and camouflaged with flakes of lichen. It takes about three weeks to put together. This nest gives rise to many vernacular names, some of which were applied to the bird itself: bum barrel, bush oven, feather poke, hedge jug, jack in a bottle, and others.
Photos: John Sheppard. Text: George Metcalfe.
See Bird Archive for other birds in this series.