10 things you always wanted to know about Great Tits

This a blog post which just had to be written. I love Great Tits and I know I’m not alone. Here then are ten things you always wanted to know about Great Tits, Parus major:

1. Great Tits have a massive repertoire. Great Tits are very vocal and inventive with it. They can have up to 40 different calls. Why? This could be an example of Beau Geste Theory: the hero of the novel propped dead soldiers up against the battlements to make the castle appear better defended that it was. In the same way Great Tits try to sound like 40 different birds at the same time to defend their territory.

2. Great Tits are the widest spread of any Tits. Great Tits live over a huge range: they live in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and even in Iran, Afghanistan and northern China.

Great Tit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

3. Great Tits change their diet with the seasons. In summer they eat insects and in winter they eat berries and seeds.

4. Great Tits have eaten bats. Great Tits have been reported killing, and eating the brains of, roosting pipistrelle bats. They must have been hungry is all I can say.

Great Tit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

5. Great Tit chicks are eaten by other birds. Great Tits are a favourite of Sparrowhawks and their chicks are eaten by Great Spotted Woodpeckers and also by Grey Squirrels. That’s tragic, except I also love Sparrowhawks, woodpeckers and squirrels.

6. Great Tits are very common. The total population is estimated at between 300–1,100 million birds. That’s incredible success. There are still a lot more people than Great Tits and human destruction of habitat is a limit to their success.

Great Tit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

7. Male Great Tits with yellower breasts have stronger sperm. Great Tits can’t make the yellow pigment of their feathers and have to have a very high quality diet with lots of carotenoids to make their breasts bright yellow. A better diet means a yellower breast and better quality sperm.

8. Higher quality female Great Tits are very selective. Higher quality females prefer males with wider black stripes on their breasts. Females select their mates on characteristics which result in a larger, more successful brood because there are then more females who select their mates on characteristics which result… You get the picture.

Great Tit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

9. Great Tits are fussy about what they feed their chicks. They will often feed chicks nutritious spiders at an early stage of their development, will hammer off the heads of insects to make them easier for chicks to eat and will even strip the guts out of caterpillars so the contents won’t retard their chick’s growth. They put exceptional care and attention into their babies’ food.

10. Great Tits have 15 different subspecies. This includes one in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, one in Crete and even a unique one in Britain: Parus major newtoni.

Great Tit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Thanks for sharing with me how great Great Tits are. Here’s my drawing of a Great Tit from my nature notebooks over forty years ago. Little did I know just five years later I’d be at Oxford University, studying Animal Biology, standing in the woods listening to Great Tits calling from the trees:

Great Tit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) 2016 David Bailey (not the)

You might like to check out my other Great Tit blogs:

Great Tits – forty years ago in my nature notebooks

Thanks for your company.

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