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Peak District Birds - The Great Tit

great tit resting on a garden feature


The great tit is aptly named because of its size, being the largest of all the European tits. It is about the size of a house sparrow and is very distinguishable with its glossy black crown on its head and broad black stripe on its yellow chest. It has a very distinctive two syllabled song and is best known for its piercing 'teacher, teacher ' tune, which sounds very much like a bicycle pump and is usually heard in the spring and summer. In winter, the call can be confused with the 'pink pink' song of the chaffinch, but the great tit is certainly not a shy bird and you will be able to see it singing its heart out, no problem.


Great Tit hunting for food

 

It is mainly a woodland bird which has adapted itself to living amongst us here in the Peak District and has adapted itself to man-made habitats, becoming a very familiar Derbyshire garden visitor. On the bird table, it has been known to be quite aggressive and it won't hesitate to fight off the smallest tits, and even other birds occasionally, but in winter it forgets about all its squabbling and joins up with other Blue tits and others in its own family to roam in flocks which scour gardens and countryside for food as a group. The thinking behind this group behaviour is that safety in numbers is key and it certainly seems to work for all that it family to stick together during the cold and barren winter months.

 

great tit annoyed at approaching sparrow

 

Along with the black crown, it also has a very distinguishable nape and throat , which are jet black. With white cheeks, it has a very yellow breast and belly with a black stripe down the centre and there is a white wing bar across the blue grey wings. The back of the great tit is a yellowish green colour and the bill is black, with sturdy grey blue legs.

 

Great Tit resting on a garden spade

 

They like to eat insects such as caterpillars and spiders, seeds and nuts and they have a variety of diets depending on the season. It is a bird which can be seen all year round in the Peak District and throughout the UK. They like to visit woodlands, parks and gardens and the only places they are absent from is the northern and western isles of Scotland. In the garden, they will feed from hanging feeders containing nuts and seeds such as sunflower hearts or they do love kitchen scraps, which they will eat from the bird table itself. They are cheeky little birds and will sometimes follow Coal tits around all day who are experts at stashing seeds in hanging baskets, but the great tit won't think twice and has no conscience, stealing anything it can from its cousin.

 

great Tit on a log with seeds

 

Both sexes can be told apart by the width of the black stripe down the breast. The female has a much thinner stripe whereas the males very broad. Baby great tits are much paler and duller with yellowish cheeks and a pale wing bar, and are, of course, much smaller than their parents.

 

Baby Great Tit calling for mum

 

They like to nest in a hole in a tree or a gap in a wall or among old nests which they tart up to use again. The nest is a cup shape made from grass, plants and down and is lined beautifully with hair, plant down and feathers but nest boxes are their favourite. The great tit's eggs are the largest of the British tits at 18 mm x 14 mm and are smooth and glossy, white with purplish red spots. The female incubate the eggs all by herself but after they hatch, the babies get fed by both parents. They have been known to have between one and two clutches in a year, depending on when they start in the season and sometimes they can have up to 15 eggs at one time, although not all usually survive. It takes around 13 to 14 days to incubate the eggs and between 16 and 22 days for the babies to fledge.

 

Baby Great Tit just fledged

 

Great tits are resident all year round in the Peak District and birds which breed in upland areas only moved to low lands for the winter. As a species, the great tit is doing well, increasing in numbers and expanding the range of where it lives, which hopefully is a result of our milder winters.  Using the nest boxes and feeders provided by us in our gardens, why would they leave this glorious part of the country?  It is very rare that they leave the UK at all, except in extremely harsh winters

 

Great Tit on the ground hunting for small worms and grubs

 

It is found throughout Europe, the Middle East, central and northern Asia and some parts of northern Africa and will live in any sort of woodland if it can. If they do nest in woodland, their nests are much more at risk than in our gardens and may be raided by woodpeckers, squirrels and weasels and infested with fleas. Adults may be hunted by sparrow hawks as well, so this is why it is so important we can provide nest boxes for them in our gardens if at all possible, to keep up the good work they are doing by clearing our gardens of pests and insects. To be able to hear this very vocal bird, which has up to 40 types of calls and songs is certainly reward enough to help them survive, but seeing them flitting about in and around the garden is a wonderful sight to see, especially when they arrive in the winter with lots of other Blue tits tagging along in their wake.

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