BTO Garden Bird of the Month – March: Blue tit

Over the coming weeks, garden nest boxes will become a hive of activity thanks to the blue tit.

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A blue tit brings food to its chick in a nest box.
© Lusie Ambler/BTO

Over the coming weeks, garden nest boxes will become a hive of activity thanks to the blue tit.

For one reason or another, we all have our favourite garden birds. Some we love because they are infrequent visitors to our gardens; their rarity adding significance to their appearance.

Others we love because they are beautiful; such as a bullfinch alighting onto a bird feeder. But there are also other, more extrinsic reasons.

For instance, when having a particularly good or bad day, the birds that we see or hear can become part of the narrative, sometimes even changing our mood. By doing so, our affection for a particular species can be altered.

That’s one of the special things about garden birds – they are all around us and so they become intimately woven into our lives.

Garden wonder

For a number of reasons, one of my favourite garden birds is the blue tit. 

As a child, I enjoyed watching blue tits come and go from my parent’s garden, and something clearly stuck as I spent much of my 20s studying the breeding biology of these birds. So, I have strong sentimental ties. But there are other, less personal reasons why I’m a fan.

Were they less common, any householder would surely be thrilled at the sight of blue tits in their garden. With their smart blue caps, yellow breasts and white cheeks, they are one of our most colourful garden visitors.

They are also wonderfully acrobatic – clinging, swinging and pecking for food at remarkable angles on bird feeders.

Their inquisitive nature adds to their appeal. Blue tits can be counted on to be one of the first species to explore a new garden feeder.

When combined with their busy ‘ti-ti-ti-chuuuuuuur’ calls as they move around a neighbourhood, we have one of our liveliest and most exciting garden birds.

© BTO

Two blue tits perch on a garden feeder. © John Harding/BTO

Easter eggs

Blue tits are particularly eye-catching in spring. During March, pairs can be seen prospecting nestboxes in gardens, looking for a place in which to rear their young. Over the next few weeks nest building will begin in earnest. A first layer of moss will be followed by lining of feathers and other soft materials.

A female blue tit will build her nest alone, with her mate following her around to make sure that her head is not turned by other males. Despite this, it is estimated that over 40 per cent of blue tit nests contain at least one chick that is reared by a male that is not its genetic parent.

In April – rarely before – the female will start laying. She will lay one egg per day, each at around 6am, until her clutch is complete.

An average clutch consists of 8–10 eggs, which can exceed a female’s own body weight! Incubation usually commences when the penultimate egg of a clutch is laid, and lasts for approximately 13–15 days.

During this time the male will feed the female while she remains in situ, a process known as courtship feeding, although she will leave the nest occasionally.

Once the chicks hatch, the really exciting action takes place. With lots of hungry beaks to feed, both parents work tirelessly to rear their young, often flying hither and thither, from dawn until dusk. In total, up to 10,000 caterpillars may be needed in order to rear a brood of blue tits.

All being well, the youngsters will fledge the nest around three weeks after hatching.

Check your nests

You must never look into a nest, right? Well, actually no.

When careful protocols are followed, nest recording causes minimal disturbance. Checking nests provides unique information about why populations of some birds are increasing, while others are decreasing.

Nest recording also helps us to track the effects of climate change and habitat modification on nesting birds.

The BTO wants to know about any nests in your garden this spring – whether in nestboxes, vegetation or in your shed or roof. You can chart the fortunes of these birds through BTO Nest Box Challenge.

 

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.

Each month we highlight a bird for you to look out for in your garden.

For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email gbw@bto.org

Find out how to record your garden nesters this year through the Nest Box Challenge.

Read previous BTO Garden Bird of the Month blogs.

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