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Great Tit

Great Tit Great Tit Male
Yellow underparts, yellow-green upperparts, black and white head and broad black stripe down breast.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Parus major
Length: 14 cm  (5½")
Wing Span: 22-25 cm  (9-10")
Weight: 16-21 g  (½-¾ oz) Female Great Tit Female
Like the male but narrower breast stripe.
Breeding Pairs: 1 600 000
Present: All Year
Status: Green
Description   Voice   Feeding   Nesting   Movements   Conservation   My Garden  
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Description

The Great Tit is the largest European tit - about the size of a House Sparrow.

The crown, nape and throat are black. The cheeks are white. The breast and belly are yellow with a black stripe down the centre. There is a white wing bar across the blue-grey wings. The back is a yellowish-green and the rump is blue-grey. Legs are grey-blue and the bill is black.

The sexes can be told apart by the width of the black stripe down the breast - the males have a broader stripe than the females.

Juveniles are paler and duller with yellowish cheeks and wing bar.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Call Alarm Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

The Great Tits' song is varied, but it's perhaps best known for for its piercing "teacher-teacher" song, which sounds very much like a bicycle pump, and is usually heard in the spring and summer.

A common call is a repeated "chink", which can be confused with the "pink pink" call of the Chaffinch.

Feeding

Great tits feed on insects, such as caterpillars and spiders, seeds, like beech mast, and berries.

In the garden they will feed from hanging feeders containing nuts and seeds, such as sunflower hearts, or on kitchen scraps from bird tables.

They sometimes follow Coal Tits to their caches of seeds in the hanging baskets, etc.

Nesting

They will nest in a hole in a tree or wall, or among the twigs of old nests. The nest is a cup made from moss, grass and down, and lined with hair, plant down and feathers. Nest boxes are frequently used.

The Great Tit's eggs are the largest of the British tits at 18 mm by 14 mm; they are smooth and glossy, and white with purplish-red spots. The female incubates the eggs by herself. After the young hatch, they are fed by both parents.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
March 1-2 7-15 13-14 16-22

Movements

Great Tits are resident and generally sedentary, though birds that breed in upland areas move to lowlands (altitudinal migration) for the winter.

In the winter, the east coast of Britain often has continental birds.

Conservation

Generally, the Great Tit is doing well, both expanding its range and increasing in abundance. This may be a result of milder winters and using nest boxes and feeders in gardens.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

The chart shows the maximum number of Great Tits visiting the garden at any one time in a particular week. The numbers of birds seem steady throughout the year, but they visit less frequent in late summer when there are adequate supplies of insects, etc., in the local woodlands.

The flocks in the autumn are probably in search of food because of inclement weather or short supplies of beech mast, etc., in the woods. However, the beech mast crops failed in 2001 and rather than seeing increased numbers of Great Tits in the garden we saw very few, so presumably they wintered elsewhere.

During the last few years, a gradual decline in the numbers of Great Tits visiting the garden has become evident but there are early signs of a recovery.

Further Reading

"The Great Tit", Hamlyn (details)


Last revision: 01 Jul 2010
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2014.
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