#WildWednesday – The long and the short of it

This year’s winner, at least in my own counting for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (end of January), was the Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus. They also happen to be my favourite of our regular visiting birds.

fatballs3

A volery of long-tailed tits on their favourite of our feeders … the one containing fat pellets

Long-tailed tits are a doddle to recognise. Even though they are covered with largely black and white feathers, the impression is of powder-puff pink bodies. Their tails are distinctive, being so long, and dominate their appearance, particularly in flight, when they seem to swirl around like large magic wands. The tails are longer than their bodies (~8cm cf. to a total length of ~14cm), and appear to hinge very flexibly. This feature helps them squeeze into the smallest of spaces, including into the narrow space between feeder and ‘squirrel-proof’ outer cage (as shown above).

fatballs2

They are sociable, noisy and excitable birds. You don’t often see just one long-tailed tit, as they tend to move around in flocks of between 8-20 birds, sometimes more. Unusually, they also practise ‘cooperative breeding’, i.e. apparently altruistic care by non-breeders, normally within family groups. And, if that wasn’t cute enough, they are also known to huddle together in winter to keep warm (e.g. see this video).

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, waiting for the signal to storm the fat pellets.

They build delightfully tidy nests, constructed from moss, then knitted together with cobwebs and lichen and lined with hundreds of soft feathers (~1,500). The whole thing may comprise upwards of 6000 pieces!

1024px-Long_Tailed_Tit_Nest_02-05-11_(5681123177)

Long-tailed tit feather-lined moss nest (source Wikipedia commons)

Although they suffer a high predation rate as a species,  records since the start of the Garden Birdwatch have shown an increase in their numbers. Hurray!

This winter they have loved the fat pellets we’ve put out, whilst completely ignoring the fat balls. (Must be a more attractive kind of fat used in them. It is certainly softer.) They are enjoying sunflower seeds too, but there is more competition at those feeders. 🙂

I am linking with Piglet in Portugal who hosts#WildWednesday, highlighting both flora and fauna.

 

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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19 Responses to #WildWednesday – The long and the short of it

  1. Cathy says:

    I love long-tailed tits too, and they do visit our garden although not every day – and they were the one regular species missing on our birdwatch this year. You shared some interesting facts with us that I was not aware of, so thanks – and that video is nothing but adorable!

    • I hate it when that happens (regulars not turning up on the day of the count that is)! We didn’t see any greenfinches, which usually put in a showing daily. I love their noisy, gregarious nature, which makes it seem like they are in the middle of a party all the time.

      • Cathy says:

        We rarely see a greenfinch here, but the long tailed lot have been back today – I think if the feeders are ever empty they go off for pastures new before chancing it again at a later date! The Golfer loved the video link too, by the way…

  2. Lovely post, and informative too, I didn’t know about their cooperative breeding or nest-building habits (how cosy it looks). I was watching a group of them just this afternoon – they didn’t appear on my feeders but were jumping around in the Lime trees, apparently eating something on them (the buds? insects?).

    • Their nests are beautiful aren’t they? Reminded me a bit of the amazing creations made by weaver birds. Mostly they seem to eat insects, but in winter they vary their diet more to include seeds. The fat pellets we have are full of rapeseed and red millet seed.

  3. Pádraig says:

    A volery. Love that word!

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    They are adorable birds, and the video was hilarious, ‘move over, move over!’ 😉 They remind me of our chickadees, who behave similarly. A whole group will fill a tree cavity to huddle for warmth. Reportedly, they can lose 25% of their body weight overnight on frigid nights, so huddling is most beneficial.

    • Chickadees look sweet too, although in appearance they are more like our coal tits. Who can resist snuggling, fluffy creatures?! The data on body weight loss is scary though and, in fact, they reckon that long-tailed tits are increasing now because we are having warmer winters. So our current lengthy cold patch (a record-breaking -9F in Scotland) is worrying!

      • Eliza Waters says:

        -9F, good lord, that is incredible, and yes, worrying. Are folks losing a lot of tender plants? With the recent trend of stretching planting zones and ‘micro-climate’ planting, I expect there will be a fair amount of loss. Good for spring nursery sales, I suppose. 😉

  5. I love the video and that cheeky little bird trying to push in right in the middle. I love the squirrel-proof birdfeeder! What a brilliant idea.. I’ve not seen any squirrels here.

    You must be very patient to take also many wonderful photos. Did you build a ‘hide’?

    We do see many different birds over the course of the year, but my favourite is always the robin. He is only here a couple of months but always comes and says hello. I often wonder where they go in the summer.

    • You are lucky to miss out on the squirrels I think. They are entertaining, but greedy, vandals. I mostly take pictures from our kitchen window and I guess that they have become used to seeing me there. Robins are the most popular bird in the UK apparently, so you are not alone! We do see some around in summer, but they also come here from Scandinavia in winter. Others migrate your way.

  6. shoreacres says:

    I’ve never heard of these birds, but their long tails remind me of our scissor-tailed flycatchers. There’s always something new and unfamiliar in your posts, apart from the birds. This time, it was the word ‘doddle,’ which I’ve never heard, and the sight of whatever it is inside that caged feeder. It looks for all the world like birdseed covered marshmallows, but surely it’s more nutritious than that!

    • Lol, I have Google handy when I read your posts too! The fat pellets are mostly just that, but yes, are also full of seeds … which are full of oils. Yum, but these little birds really need it.

  7. Tina says:

    Beautiful photos of equally lovely little birds. Thanks for the photo of the nest. I’m always fascinated by the intricacies of bird nests; such amazing little architects!

    • I should have said that that picture of the nest was an example of a raided home, so they are usually more neat and regular than that. It was a good example of their layered structure though.

  8. Cathy says:

    Lovely video of them all snuggling up! What an enjoyable post. Thanks for sharing!

  9. susurrus says:

    I had recently been reading about long tailed tits, but you’ve made it so much better with the illustrations. I loved the video too, although I can’t see much sleep going on in a huddle like that.

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