Wildlife Column: The amazing long-tailed titmouse

Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.

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.

Long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tit

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.