Monday, 11 December 2017

Irish Garden Birds - Brilliant Blue Tits

This blog was originally published in December 2017.


With the recent spell of cold weather it's extra important to keep your feeders topped up, and putting out a fresh dish of water each morning to give the birds somewhere to drink and wash (other water sources are likely frozen over!). A bird like a Blue Tit weighs only 11g, so providing them with an easily accessible and plentiful food source can ensure they survive the winter! 

Now, on to the species of the week....

.........................................................................................................................................

Species Profile: Blue Tit

As Gaeilge: ‘Meant├ín Gorm’

Irish Garden Bird Survey Ranking 2016/17: 3rd place

Conservation status: Green-listed in Ireland and 'secure' at European level.

Blue Tit fluffing up its feathers in the cold. Photo by B. Burke


Did You know?

  1. In the mid-1900’s Blue Tits learned to remove the wax-board seals from milk bottles on doorsteps in the UK and Ireland to get at the cream at the top of the bottle! The cream provided a reliable source of energy rich food, with more Blue Tits learning it from watching others.
  2. Blue Tits have yellow breast feathers as a result of eating certain caterpillars that eat plant leaves containing carotene. The strong yellow colour advertises how good they are at finding food, and helps them attract a mate as a result!
  3. Each Blue Tit chick can eat 100 caterpillars a day. Given that a pair of Blue Tits can lay 8-10 eggs, that’s around 15-20,000 caterpillars (or other insects) that the parents need to find in the three weeks between their chicks hatching and fledging. 
  4. Both male and female Blue Tits look identical to us humans. The birds themselves however can see in the ultraviolet light spectrum, and so males and females actually look very different to each other in the eyes of a Blue Tit! Males have brighter crests than females, and the brighter the crest the better for females choosing a mate!  
Blue Tit. Photo by P. Kavanagh



How long do they live?
The oldest known Blue Tit in Ireland and Britain was 10 years, 3 months and 10 days old – caught at the same site in Bedfordshire in 1986 as a first-year male, and again in 1997. Their typical lifespan is around 3 years.


What do they feed on? 
Blue Tits prefer to eat insects like flies and caterpillars, and other invertebrates such as spiders. Many gardeners would be surprised and delighted at the amount of aphids (greenfly, blackfly etc) that they eat each year, as well as other grubs and larvae that can damage plants. With that in mind, a Blue Tit nestbox is a wise addition to a garden where flowers are prized!

Blue Tit. Photo by B. Burke
When invertebrates aren’t readily available in the winter months, Blue Tits will happily feed on seeds, peanuts and fat balls at bird feeders.




Irish Garden Bird Survey Trends:
Blue Tits have been a regular feature in the top 3 species in the Garden Bird Survey, along with the other garden stalwarts the Robin and the Blackbird. In the mid-1990's Blue Tits were in second place behind Robin, but in more recent years they’ve held firm in third position – adding a delightful splash of colour to around 98% of gardens!

They're common in gardens throughout the full 13 weeks of the garden bird survey (i.e. Dec-Feb), with most gardens reporting 2 or 3 Blue Tits each week. They’re not a species that forms flocks, so you’re very unlikely to spot more than 3 or 4 at any one time.



The graph above shows the average number of Blue Tits per garden during each year of the Irish garden bird survey – usually in or around 3 Blue Tits per year for each garden with a few little peaks after a good breeding season.


Movements and Migration:
Blue Tits from Ireland & Britain caught in other countries
 https://blx1.bto.org/ring/countyrec/resultsall/rec14620all.htm



As you can see from the map, our Blue Tits don't tend to move much and are resident in Ireland all year. Around 4.3 million Blue Tits have been ringed in Ireland and the UK to date, but only a very small number have been recaptured elsewhere, compared to huge numbers of species like Chaffinch or Goldfinch. So that means the Blue Tits in your garden nestbox last summer could well be the same ones visiting your feeders this Christmas, or the birds in your garden at the moment will probably be looking for a nest very nearby come the spring!





How Can I help Blue Tits?

Blue Tits nest in holes in trees and walls where available - exactly the type of nesting habitat that can be effectively re-created by nestboxes! If you want to attract nesting Blue Tits, nestboxes with a small hole (25mm) are recommended. 


Blue Tit. Photo by D. Coombes




When it comes to putting out food for Blue Tits in your garden, they really aren’t fussy and will happily eat sunflower seeds, peanuts, mealworms, fatballs etc.


Blue Tits only weight around 11g, so the food in your garden is very valuable to them in the colder weather!


See our selection of bird foods and variety of feeder types at this link, or visit our shop in our Wicklow HQ.






Singing Blue Tit Soft Toy








This year we also have the very popular singing Blue Tit soft toyThey're soft and cuddly and play a Blue Tit call when you squeeze them. An ideal Christmas gift!


Get them at our shop at the link below, while stocks last.








We have a variety of pin badges in our shop, including Blue Tit - the suggested donation for a pin badge is €2 each, plus €1 p&p - or 3 for €5. 


Lastly, to help Blue Tits and your other garden birds you can become a member of BirdWatch Ireland. Membership makes an ideal Christmas gift – one that keeps on giving throughout the year.

With your membership pack you'll get a free gift, posters of Irish Birds, a pin badge, loads of leaflets on how to attract birds to your garden, and our famous Wings magazine will be delivered to your door four times per year. 

Under 18's and family memberships will also receive our 'Bird Detectives' magazine twice a year, filled with fun and educational activities!

Your BirdWatch Ireland Membership pack! 

I hope you've learned something new about Blue Tits through this species profile - if there's a species you'd like us to cover later in the winter please let us know on facebook or twitter!



1 comment:

  1. My brother angus had a ringed bluetit a few years back that turned out to be 7yrs old. Also we have had between 4 and 11 bluetits at any one time

    ReplyDelete

The Irish Garden Bird Survey 2017/18 is now finished!

Despite what last weeks weather might have you believe, winter is coming to an end ! Birds are starting to sing and pair up, and some are ...