Long-tailed tits: Builders of the bird world

PUBLISHED: 09:24 01 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:36 20 February 2013

Photo: Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)

Photo: Sue Tranter (rspb-images.com)

Long-tailed tits know how to feather their nests says Louise Pedersen of the RSPB

The flock of gregarious long-tailed tits with their endless tsee-tsee-tsee calls that have been using the tall bushes near my house all winter has disbanded and pairs can now be seen darting back and forth with their beaks full of moss.

Long-tailed tits make the most intricate and delicate nests of any of the birds and you know the property market, the first decision is all about location.Typically, they choose a low-down spot, well hidden in a bush, protected by prickles and the vegetation of the shrub they have selected. They also prefer south-facing areas to catch the warming rays of the sun.

Next comes the actual construction. Their nests are wonderfully complex and, interestingly, they could not do it without the help of spiders. With moss being the bricks of what will become a pouch-shaped luxury home, strands of cobwebs are the mortar that binds the moss to the branches and adds elasticity. They also collect lichens from walls and rocks, and place them on the outside for camouflage the pebbledash or paint to the structure.

Finally, they fill their pouch with feathers for warmth and softness. They also add a few feathers around the entrance hole to the nest to offer a little extra concealment. These feathers act as excellent insulation for the chicks, keeping them nice and warm on the brisk spring mornings of March here in Herefordshire.

Studies have shown long-tailed tits can use up to 2,000 feathers in each nest and in their effort to collect all the various materials they will fly between 600-700 miles!

This laborious job, collecting moss, spiders webs, feathers and lichen and turning it into a home, takes more than three weeks to complete, and remember that their only tool is their beak which they use to delicately weave in new material to create the nest cup. They are only small birds and the structure they complete in a few weeks is bigger than they are and perfectly adapted for its job; strong, flexible and warm.

If you keep your eyes peeled throughout late March and April, you may too be able to see evidence of this remarkable workmanship that takes place around you.


For more information on how you can help birds in your garden visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/hfw


The RSPB speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. Nature is amazing help us keep it that way.
For as little as 3 a month, you can help us create more nature reserves, give more school children the chance to learn about nature first-hand, and to research the problems that are facing birds and wildlife. Log on to
www.rspb.org.uk or call us on 0121 616 6850 to find out more or to join us.


Why not give long-tailed tits and other birds a little encouragement to nest near you by following these tips?

Put up nestboxes for hole-nesting birds such as house sparrows and starlings

Leave out natural fibres and pieces of plant materials for birds to collect. Place these by feeders or a nearby bush to make it easier for the birds to collect nesting material quickly

House sparrows prefer to collect nest material from within a few metres of their nest. They use straw, grasses, fur, hair and other natural materials to make their nests, so provide some when you can

House martins, song thrushes and blackbirds use mud in the construction of their nests. A small, wet, muddy patch in your garden, such as a muddy puddle or edge of a pond, may make it easier for them to build a nest, particularly if it has been dry and there are no other nearby sources.

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