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Willow Tit

Willow Tit
Both sexes: Buff-brown with a black cap and bib.

The Willow Tit and the Marsh Tit are very similar and very difficult to tell apart. Indeed, the two were only recognised as separate species at the end of the 19th century.

They both have black caps, sandy-brown upper parts and buff underparts. The Willow Tit is scruffier looking than the Marsh Tit: it has a duller cap, a large bib, a pale patch on the wing and its bulging nape makes it look "bull-necked".

Key Differences between Marsh and Willow Tit
  Pale Wing Patch Bib Cap Bull-necked Cheeks
Marsh Tit No Small Glossy No White
Willow Tit Yes Large Dull Yes Whitish

The Coal Tit is similar, but has a white patch on the nape and a much larger bib. The Blackcap is bigger and does not have a bib.

Bull-necked Willow Tit
Bull-necked Willow Tit

Scientific Name Poecile montanus
Length 12 cm  (4½")
Wing Span 17-18 cm  (7")
Weight 9-11 g  (¼-½ oz)
Breeding Pairs 25000
Present All Year
Status Red

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


The easiest way of distinguishing the two species is by their calls.

The Willow Tit has a buzzing nasal call, like "tchay-tchay-tchay", and its song is "pee-oo pee-oo".


© Jean Roché,
Alarm Call

© Jean Roché,


During the breeding season, Willow Tits feed mostly on insects. From the start of autumn and through the winter, they feed on seeds, berries and occasionally nuts. They store food, especially in late summer and autumn, and can be entirely dependent on this store during the winter.

Willow Tits are not common garden birds, preferring damp woodland with birch and alder trees, or hedgerows.


The female excavates a cavity in a dead tree or tree stump, which is then lined with wood fibres, hair and feathers.

They can be encouraged to use nest boxes, but these have to be filled with wood chippings for the birds to excavate.

The small (16 mm by 12 mm) eggs are smooth and glossy, and white with reddish-brown speckles. The female incubates the eggs by herself. After the young hatch, they are fed by both parents.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April-May 1 5-13 13-15 17-19


The Willow Tit is sedentary.


The Willow Tit is a Red List species owing to a serious decline in the breeding population. Two possible explanations for the decline are:

  1. Changes in land usage and woodland management; for example, less management of broadleaved trees increases the density of the canopy and reduces the shrub layer beneath on which many woodland species depend.
  2. Competition from other Tit species; for example, Blue Tits have been increasingly occupying the nest hole that the Willow Tit has excavated.