Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalidae)

BIRDS / PERCHING BIRDS /

The long-tailed tit was first classified as a true tit of the Parus group. Parus has since been split from the Aegithalidae, with the latter becoming a distinct family containing three genera: Aegithalos, Psaltria and Psaltriparus. Only Aegithalos has a single representative in the UK.

 Genus Aegithalos

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) Resident
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) Copyright Peter Drury

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Copyright Peter Drury

This is the only representative of the Aegithalidae in northern Eurasia.

The long-tailed tit is globally widespread throughout temperate northern Europe and Asia, into boreal Scandinavia and south into the Mediterranean zone. It inhabits deciduous and mixed woodland with a well-developed shrub layer, favouring edge habitats. It can also be found in scrub, heathland with scattered trees, bushes and hedges, in farmland and riverine woodland, parks and gardens. The bird’s year-round diet of insects and social foraging bias habitat choice in winter towards deciduous woodland, typically of Oak, Ash and locally Sycamore species. For nesting, strong preference is shown towards scrub areas. The nest is usually built in thorny bushes less than 3 metres above the ground.

This species has been described as a tiny (at only 13–15 cm in length, including its 7–9 cm tail), round-bodied tit with a short, stubby bill and a very long, narrow tail. The sexes look the same and young birds undergo a complete moult to adult plumage before the first winter. The plumage is mainly black and white, with variable amounts of grey and pink.

The nest of the long-tailed tit is constructed from four materials – lichen, feathers, spider egg cocoons and moss, with over 6,000 pieces used for a typical nest.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Collecting spiders webs for nest building Copyright Peter Drury

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Collecting spiders webs for nest building
Copyright Peter Drury

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Collecting feathers to line the nest. Copyright Peter Drury

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Collecting feathers to line the nest.
Copyright Peter Drury

The nest is a flexible sac with a small, round entrance on top, suspended either low in a gorse or bramble bush or high up in the forks of tree branches. The structural stability of the nest is provided by a mesh of moss and spider silk. The tiny leaves of the moss act as hooks and the spider silk of egg cocoons provides the loops; thus forming a natural form of velcro.

Pairs whose nests fail have three choices: try again, abandon nesting for the season or help at a neighbouring nest. It has been shown that failed pairs split and help at the nests of male relatives, recognition being established vocally. The helped nests have greater success due to higher provisioning rates and better nest defence. At the end of the breeding season, in June–July, the birds reform the winter flocks in their winter territory.

Where these can be seen: Flocks of these birds can be seen working their way through the shrubs alongside the Hayling Billy Trail. Always a pleasure to see these agile birds.

Long-tailed Tit Gallery