Monthly Archives: February 2009


GREAT TIT (Parus major)

Colourful Great Tit

Colourful Great Tit

Here are some facts about the Great Tit


Forages in hedges and trees for insects, spiders and worms. Also likes –

  • Fruit
  • Peas
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Coconut
  • Fat
  • Suet
  • Cheese

The Great Tit likes woodland habitat.

It has a beak strong enough to crack hazel and beech nuts.

Can crack hazel and beech nuts as well

Can crack hazel and beech nuts with their beak

The Great Tit is a visitor to many bird tables but also likes to feed on the ground.

The Great Tit is the largest of the British tits and is easy to recognise because of its yellow breast and long black central band which runs from its chin to its tail.  It has a black and white head.  It is a really colourful bird.

The tail is blue grey with white outer feathers.

Females have less glossy caps and less black on the breast.


I always think the Great Tit looks pretty and charming but in reality it can be aggressive to other birds who try and share the bird table or peanut feeder. 

I have seen Great Tits behave aggressively in spring and Summer when they are defending their area.   They open their beaks and spread their wings to try to get the other bird to go away.  This war keeps on going until one of the birds gives up and flys away.  It is really interesting to watch.

There have been recordings of Great Tits actually killing other birds.  Their beak is a good weapon – it must be as it can open a hazel-nut.

The Great Tit is a true woodland bird.  They rely on insect food to feed their young.

Great Tits also depend on garden feeders and bird tables and can make themselves at home in gardens.

Great Tit enjoying a fat ball

Great Tit enjoying a fat ball

SIZE OF BIRD – 14 cm

EGGS   5 to 11 eggs are laid.  The eggs are white with red spots

INCUBATION  – 13 to 14 days

BREEDING – One brood

Great Tits have been known to take over blue tits nest boxes.  They put a new lining over the blue tits eggs and hatch their own eggs (bird against bird again)

3 weeks (approx).  The young are fed mainly on caterpillars.  The Great tits time their families to work with the peak numbers of caterpillars.  This time changes each year.

Question – how do the birds know weeks in advance when there will be the most caterpillars about.

The Great Tit makes a nest from grasses, moss, wool and any other material that is available.  They will nest in many places.  Some of the places are

  • hole fronted nest boxes,
  • tree holes,
  • eaves,
  • stone walls,
  • flowerpots

Males take little or no part in building the nest, but they feed the hen while she is incubating and laying the eggs.

  1 1/8 inch (29mm) diamater entrance hole or slightly larger.  Interior depth of at least 5 inches (127mm) from hole to floor. 

Floor needs to be at least 4 inches x 4 inches (100mm x 100 mm)

Most of the birdsong has a ringing quality but lots of different calls have been described for the Great tit.  The song has been described as ‘clink’ and ‘teacher-teacher-teacher’


Great Tits should be welcome in the garden as they feed their young on protein – rich caterpillars. 

They also benefit from our birdtables and bird feeders – especially in winter.

Once the fledglings are independent from their parents they feed in flocks with other species of tits. 

They roost together in Summer and Autumn.

In winter, so they have better protection from the freezing cold weather they nestle alone in any crevice or perhaps a hole in a tree.   I know they will be visiting my bird feeders for many months to come.

It’s good to know the birdfood I put out and the hedges round the garden are useful and helping Great Tits and other birds keep in good condition.

I would like to thank Sara from FARMING FRIENDS for the photograph of the Great Tit eating a fatball. Thanks Sara[ad#125x125square][ad#125x125square][ad#125x125square]

Forest Farming

I watched a programme last week (the name of which I’ve forgotten, but will find out)

It was about what will happen when oil runs out – as it surely will.

Independently from each other farmers and gardeners have been looking at this.  Some for a number of years.

One of the answers seems to be something called forest farming.  This in a way is ‘layered’ gardening. 

The ground provides some fruit, higher up shrubs provide more food and even higher the trees help as well.

We would not grow wheat as much and would have to change out diet a little but these people think this is the way forward.

At the moment it costs a lot to put fertiliser on the soil to help the soil produce our food.  By using the  Forest Farming way the fertiliser is supplied naturally, by leaf mould, bird droppings and other items.

This can be done in a garden or on a big scale.

Must remember and find out more about the programme.

But it was heartening to think that we in this Country have the means to feed our selves, keep the countryside natural and help wildlife at the same time.

It may not all be doom and gloom.

Weather lore

A little birdie told me that in Yorkshire the weather lore says –

If frogspawn appears early it is a sign of a mild spring and of early weather that’s suitable for tadpoles.

Another little birdie told me –

If frogspawn is in a sheltered part of a pond it means that spring will be wet and windy.  If the frogspawn is out in the middle of the pond it means a dry spring and early summer.  It is because frogs choose deep water if they know there is going to be a drought.

Aren’t frogs clever?

And aren’t my little birdies clever to know this?


Bird Food that is under our feet

Maybe when feeding birds we ignore one brillianc basic food larder that some birds can use –


A  lawn, even a really small lawn can be important to birds

Dunnocks, finches and sparrows can take seeds from a lawn

Blackbirds, thrushes and robins can hunt for worms, insect larvae and pupae.

Worms on the lawn could give breakfast, dinner and tea to a hungry bird.

As well as giving a good meal to birds worms are brilliant little creatures because as they burrow they help drain and aerate the grass roots.

When it’s really dry the ground can get so hard it makes it difficult for  birds to feed.  We sometimes recycle our house water from the sink and throw it on a patch of grass.  This, of course, makes the ground softer and brings worms to the surface.  Also it doesn’t cost anything to do.

Mother nature is feeding the birds and it is not costing me a penny.

Chatting to a blackbird

I was a bit late putting out the bird food this morning.  The grated cheese goes down well with the blackbirds.

I was putting the food out.  Most of the birds flew away, but one blackird kept perched on the fence really close to me.

I looked straight at the blackbird and realised I was missing a good photo opportunity.

“Where’s my camera?”

“Where’s my camera” I asked the blackbird

The blackbird kept looking at me

“Where’s my camera when I need it?

A robin appeare and perched close to the blackbird.  If it had been Christmas it would have been a Christmas Card moment.  The blackbird was sitting still on the fence, but the robin with a lovely red breast was hopping on the fence.

“Serves you right for NOT putting out our bird food early enough.  We are both starving.  No time for photo opportunities now – it’s cheese time.”

So I put out the bird food and left.

The same thing happened to me a few months ago.  But I can’t carry my camera with me every time I put some bird food out.

A Picture Paints a Thousand words

Hedge - a home for birds

Hedge - a home for birds

And birds need shelter, especially in winter when everything is frozen

Earth and water frozen during an English winter

Earth and water frozen during an English winter

Hedges can give shelter, food and a nest site for birds.  If you look closely at the photo below you will see a few berries still hanging from the large hedge which seems to have turned itself into a tree!

Shelter, food and a nest site all in one place

Shelter, food and a nest site all in one place

The ground isn’t frozen all the time and often gives birds much needed food – such as worms.  An untended piece of ground is sometimes very productive as the photo belows shows.


Here is the same photo but showing more of the area nearby


Gardens need not take a lot of looking after.  Plant a shrub and it lasts ages and can give cover and shelter to wildlife.

House Sparrow Survey

Everyone knows the house sparrow but not many give it a second glance.  A detailed survey into sparrow breeding showed some reasons why urban sparrow numbers may be dropping.

I admire the sparrow.  I think, without realising it, I’ve seen at least one a day for the past 20 years.  I’ve taken this little sparrow for granted. 

Yet it’s success is closely tied to our own. 

Sparrows are thought to have spread across Europe from Africa at the time of Neolichic man!  So they have been connected to us through history.  What a story they would tell if they could speak.

Colonies of house sparrows that live near an isolated farm or on an island only seem to survive as long as man is there.  This ability they have to use what man provides enables them to have up to 3 broods a year.

Yet in some areas house sparrows are declining.  Farming methods have sometimes been blamed but this is not the complete picture.

Kate Vincent a student from Leicester’s University collected data about urban sparrows. 

Kate is very dedicated.  In 2007 she studied 619 nest boxes in Leicester which she put up over the previous three years.

She found that in urban areas the second or third broods of chicks are dying  in the nest.    The reason for this is unknown but starvation or infection could be a cause.

In some places the number of deaths is so big that the population of the house sparrow is dropping. 

One of the reasons could be that early and late broods do have different diets.  Spring chicks are fed on beetles and daddy longlegs.  The midsummer birds are fed on smaller insects like aphids.  Aphids are plant eating insects – so lets get planting!

When the chicks are born, when they are at their most vulnterable, they eat only insects   and if there are not enough insects they will die of starvation.

Kate’s research and survey is really  valuable. It is relevant today and does provides questions as well as answers.

I will see what else I can find out


We sometimes forget bad and annoythings.

I put some birdfood out early this morning.

When The Husband looked out of the kitchen window there were not any birds at all  near any of the feeders.  This is very unusual.

Then he saw a large sparrowhawk sat on the garden fence.  The same garden fence that sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds etc sit on.

It’s not long since I saw a sparrowhawk try and catch a blackbird.

Life is not all cosy and nice for our garden birds.  They need our help.  Maybe putting up a thick hawthorne hedge would be a good idea.