The Great Tit
The Great Tit is an instantly familiar garden bird which is common throughout Europe. A real lover of the garden habitat, it is one of the most regular visitors to almost all birdtables, feeders, nutbags and bird boxes. Away from gardens, the Great Tit can be seen in almost any woodland habitat, parks, hedgerows and even reedbeds.
The largest member of the family, the Great Tit therefore lacks some of the agility of its smaller relatives. It is, however, a great vocalist, imitating a wide range of different species. Constant calls can also be heard and these include a loud resonant ‘teecha-teecha-teecha’, which represents the Great Tit’s song, and a ringing ‘zinc, zinc’.
Female Great Tits are noticeably duller than males. The mantle tends to be paler green, the wings greyer, with greener fringes, while the black on the head and throat is duller. The underparts are still yellow, but the central strip is narrower than on the male. When seen clearly, the differences in underpart patterning are easily noted. The female’s thinner black band is sometimes broken or flecked with white or yellow.
Males show a glossy black head, with a bold white cheek patch and pale yellowish nape. The mantle is olive green fading to powder blue on the rump. The tail is brighter blue, with prominent white outer tail feathers. The wings are blue grey with a white wingbar and feather fringing. The belly is bright yellow with a broad, black central band. The vent and undertail are white, with a thin black central stripe. The bill and eye are black, while the legs and feet are blue grey.
The male Great Tit starts his characteristic display routine as early as February. With his familiar song he tries to entice a suitable mate and the pair will, hopefully, raise a brood or two during the breeding season.
In the winter the Great Tit becomes a more greedy feeder. After a summer of feeding youngsters and themselves on a diet of caterpillars, larvae and insects, they relish the winter months, devouring all sorts of nuts, fruit or seeds that they can find. Despite their comparatively large size, they are still quite agile feeders, particularly on nutbags.
Note how this female, in characteristic pose, has a far narrower band on the underparts than the male (above) but it is distinctly stronger and blacker than that of the juvenile (below).
Juveniles are washed-out affairs, much duller than either adult. The black on the head is replaced by sooty-brown, the cheeks are washed yellow, the nape patch is off-white, while the upperparts appear very dull olivebrown. The wings are duller and more olive, with buffy-white fringes. The softer yellow underparts show a sooty-brown central stripe. The bill shows a yellowy gape, otherwise the bare parts are the same as those of the adults.