The Long-tailed Tit
The Long-tailed Tit is a delicious little bird which is found commonly across Europe. As well as wooded gardens, Long-tailed Tits tend to favour woodland fringe, scrub and dense hedgerows.
The appearance of Long-tailed Tits varies somewhat across Europe, from white-headed birds in Scandinavia to black-streaked birds in Spain. Long-tailed Tits are busy birds, always on the move, on a seemingly constant search for food. Family groups join together in the autumn and winter, and the large feeding parties trill their way through gardens and woods, often with other species in tow.
The tiny oval body, rounded head, short stubby bill, distinctive plumage pattern and massively long tail make the Long-tailed Tit an unmistakable delight. The constant contact call, a piercing ‘tsee, tsee, tsee’ is easily recognisable once learnt.
Long-tailed Tits do not eat as many seeds as other tits, preferring to eat insects. Highly agile in their search for food amongst the leaves and twigs, they hang upsidedown by one foot while clutching food in the other. They have an incredibly small black bill and black eye with a red orbital ring. The small, rarely seen feet and legs are dark grey-brown.
Long-tailed Tits in Britain and Ireland have an off-white head with two broad blackish bands running from the bill base, over the crown to the nape. The mantle and rump are blackish. The long tail is black with white outermost feathers. The wings show pink scapulars, broad white edges to the tertials and pale-tipped dark flight feathers. The underparts are off-white, with a pink flush to the flanks and belly. The undertail is spotted white on black.
A familiar sight after young have fledged is to see and hear a flock of Long-tailed Tits streaming through a woodland. They are unmistakable, with tiny bodies and long tails.
The small, perfectly round nest of the Long-tailed Tit is a marvel to behold. Made of lichen, moss, feathers and anything soft, the birds build the nest deep inside cover, particularly prickly bushes, or in a tree fork.
In Scandinavia, Long-tailed Tits have unmarked snowy-white heads, paler pink scapulars and more white in the wings.
Birds on the near European continent show broader black head stripes than those of British birds and the flanks are a dingier, dirtier pink. Further south and into Spain, Long-tailed Tits become darker and dingier still.
Juvenile Long-tailed Tits are browner than the adults, with more dark markings on the head, whitish (not pink) scapulars and a shorter tail. The underparts are white, with little or no trace of pink. The bill shows a yellowish base, but is otherwise black. The eye may appear brown, but the red ring is as the adult’s, as is the leg colour.