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Long-tailed Tits - Good News UK Story

  • Julian Hector
  • 4 May 06, 10:45 AM

Long-tailed Tits, copyright Andrew MacColl
Picture copyright Andrew MacColl

Many of us here in blighty are familiar with this little bird. Their body is tiny (size of a grown man's thumb), but they look much bigger because of their long tail, and during winter they can be seen flitting in little bands between gardens and in open scrub country. And it's good news: Ben Hatchwell - a Reader at Sheffield University - has studied them for years and he says they're on the up, they probably like the milder winters.

We made a programme about them - have a listen. More about Long-tailed tits: BBC Radio 4 - The Living World

These birds are the UK's only sociable bird species. It's intriguing - during the winter they buzz about in family groups, and in late winter - as pairs - they start to build their amazing nest sticking lichen together with spider webs. In early spring the female lays 12 or more eggs in this lovely round nest lined with over 3000 feathers. Ma and pa come back and forth feeding their chicks on insects. The twist in the tale is if any of their relatives in the winter flock fail to breed, they come along and help. Why do they help? That's because they are related and being a good uncle, aunt or first cousin is better than not breeding at all. And why do they have long tails? Because they feed on the very tips of branches looking for insects and it helps them balance. And global warming? Important issue here is the long-tailed tit is the only non migrant insectivore in Britain - and so warmer winters might mean easier feeding conditions and a possibility of more food, so more survive. Ben has no evidence for this but an intriguing idea. Keeping their winter group together with an army of possible helpers come the spring is a darn good strategy. Working in teams is a good way to deal with harsh environments - And for a tiny bird, being resident in blighty is pretty harsh! Thanks Ben for access to a great little bird.

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