Long tailed tits

I have been writing a short piece in the Grantham Canal Society newsletter each month for the last three years – I thought it would be fun to share these little snippets on here! If you would like to subscribe to the digital newsletter which drops into your inbox once a month, or look at older issues, visit their website here:

January 2018 – Long tailed tits

A walk down the towpath in January is likely to be accompanied by the flutter of wings and warning calls as birds forage in the path-side hedgerows. One of the smallest species in the UK is likely to be among them, but far from being discreet they make their presence disproportionately known as they forage.

Long tailed tits, weighing just 9g, are highly social birds – they move through the landscape in flocks of closely related individuals, maintaining a shrill ‘si-si-si’ call-and-response as individuals keep in touch. Their aim, at this time of year especially, is to forage for enough high-value food to keep their tiny bodies warm enough to survive. They seek invertebrate prey by preference, capitalising on their low weight to pick food such as moth eggs as well as other invertebrates from the higher reaches of twigs and leaves which their heavier counterparts are unable to reach.

At night, the flock remains together, nestling down in a shrub or tree to form a dense ball with just their tails sticking out. As spring marches on, they will be building their tiny nests out of moss, lichen and spiders webs, lined with feathers. Interestingly, they are also social at nesting time – they will try to pair up and nest on their own but if unsuccessful, they will help at the nest of a close relative.

Listen out as you walk this winter – the distinctive call will alert you to the presence of these charming little ‘flying teaspoons’!

long-tailed tit.jpg
Long tailed tit on hawthorn – image kindly provided by Ryan Clark

Fieldfares

I have been writing a short piece in the Grantham Canal Society newsletter each month for the last three years – I thought it would be fun to share these little snippets on here! If you would like to subscribe to the digital newsletter which drops into your inbox once a month, or look at older issues, visit their website here:

January 2016 – Fieldfares

Fieldfares and redwings are two thrush species which arrive in the UK for the winter each year, having spent the summer in their breeding grounds in Central Europe. The UK has had unusually mild conditions this year which has led to lower numbers than usual, but October and November still saw a good influx.

The Grantham Canal is always a reliable place to find chattering flocks of fieldfares which work their way along the hedgerows in search of the dogrose hips, hawthorn haws and blackthorn sloes, as well as the less obvious ivy berries which form a vital part of their diet in January and February when the best of the berries have been stripped. Their diet also includes insects, fruits and grains.

They are often quite cautious of human presence and their distinctive flight-call – a harsh “tsak tsak tsuk” – will often signal them moving ahead of you along the towpath.

Fieldfares and redwings often fly in mixed flocks but are easily told apart. Redwings are a rich warm brown with rusty-red underwings – similar in size to a song thrush – with a bold white line across the eyebrow. Fieldfares have more white/grey colour about their bodies and are slightly larger – similar in size to a blackbird. They lack the bold red underwing and the black supercilium which distinguish the redwing.

Both of these winter thrushes tend to stay with us through until April or early May when they head back to their breeding territories in warmer climes.

Fieldfare feeding on cotoneaster berry
Fieldfare feeding on cotoneaster berries