Ultimate bird profiles: Blue Tits

Quick and adaptable when it comes to finding food, the blue tit has learnt to make exceptionally good use of bird feeders in the garden, taking only a few minutes to discover a new supply of peanuts.

When it comes to problem-solving, the blue tit has few rivals. Faced with intelligence test apparatus, blue tits have learned to pull out a series of pegs or open matchbox drawers to get at food.

Blue tit

Some years ago, blue tits solved a less artificial problem—they learned how to get at the milk left on suburban doorsteps, by pecking at the foil of the bottle tops, and went further than that by choosing only the full-cream variety. The birds benefited from the cream’s high-fat content, especially in cold weather and full-cream milk contains very little lactose, a crystalline sugar found in milk, which blue tits are unable to digest.

Sometimes these residents take part in an even odder activity. Blue tits, if they get inside a house, may have a mania for tearing paper. Strips are torn from wallpaper and from books, newspapers, and labels. Putty and other objects may be attacked. No one really knows why they do this, but it may be what is known as a dissociated hunting activity, as tits commonly pull bark off trees when they are seeking insects.

 

Unusual nests

blue tit

When it comes to choosing a nest site, blue tits are equally adaptable. Any crevice, nook, or cranny that gives protection from the elements and from predators will do. They have been known to build in drainpipes, tin cans, and car radiators, and on lamp posts and bus stops, among other places. Nest-boxes put up especially for them are particularly favoured. Blue tits readily take seeds and nuts from birdfeeders and continue to do so in the summer so that all the insects they find can be fed to the young.

Originally, blue tits were woodland birds, and in winter they often join other species of tits, and the occasional goldcrest, nuthatch, or treecreeper, in large, loose flocks that move through the woods. The trilling song of the blue tit may be heard on a sunny day in January, and nest-boxes should be put up by the end of February because blue tits start prospecting for nest-holes early in the year. The record for the largest clutch laid by any songbird–19 eggs–is held by a blue tit, although a clutch of 8-10 eggs is more usual. Large clutches are insurance against the blue tit’s high mortality rate.

 

Identifying a blue tit

blue tits

Wings, tail, and crown of head blue; cheeks white; back green and underparts yellow; adult sexes alike; young birds duller green colour with yellow ring around their head.

Blue tits nest in tree holes, nest-boxes or crevices in a wall; both sexes collect moss, grass, hair, and wool as nesting material; lays late April–May; 8–15 or more eggs, white with red-brown spots; incubation about 14 days, by female only; young, fed by both sexes, fly after about 19 days.

These birds eat mainly aphids, caterpillars, and other insects; some fruit, grain, and seeds.

 

Read more: Guide to British owls

Read more: Blackbirds bird profile

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