I get many enquiries about one of our prettiest garden visitors, the long-tailed tit. Paulette Edwards on BBC Radio Sheffield always gets giggly when I talk about ‘long-tailed tits and fat- balls’ but I can’t think why!
Anyhow, this tiny creature has the smallest body of any adult British bird.
They are really interesting, and for us, a unique species. The long-tailed tit builds delicate round nests decorated with moss and lichen and raise their young communally.
Young from earlier broods help feed and rear the current youngsters. This is essentially a tropical bird-trait and indeed, the long-tailed tit is a member of a largely tropical family, the Babblers.
They tend to spend summer along woodland edges and overgrown hedgerows and such places, but will freely visit gardens in winter months for example.
Long-tailed tits will feed in birch, sallow and alder as they take the tiny seeds from cones and buds, and yes, they love fat-balls too.
In fact that is a great way to draw them into your garden. They tend to form single-species flocks or will mix with other tits, and with smaller finches such as siskins and redpolls.
The call is a distinctive but soft, repeated churr; like a sort of buzzing noise.
Baby long-tailed tits do major in the cuteness stakes and I recall seeing a family of about eight babies sat out on a branch in a wood in the nearby Moss Valley.
They looked like eight tiny rounded lollipops each with a stick – which was their tail – and they were just tiny bundles of fluff.
Of course being such a small bird the long-tailed tit can suffer if we have a prolonged cold snap in winter.
One of their solutions to this particular problem is to roost en masse by packing in to say, a bird nesting box at night.
This is one reason to place nesting boxes and roosting pouches strategically in your garden – not just for the breeding birds but for those roosting as well.
You may not even know that birds are there as they can come to roost after dusk.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.