Willow Tit

(Poecile montanus)

Alert Status: Red - 92% decline
Identifying Features: Black caps with sandy-brown upper parts. Willow Tit is scruffier looking than the Marsh Tit. 
Average Length: 12 cm
Average Lifespan: 2 Years
Average Wingspan: 17-18 cm
Beak type: Insects

Feeding:
Natural: Insects, seeds berries & occasionally nuts
How to feed: Hanging feeders & bird tables
What to feed: Seeds, berries suet treats & peanut granules

Nesting: Usually found in cavities in dead trees or stumps. Can nest in nest boxes but box needs to be filled with sawdust.
Where to see: Usually found in damp places like willow thickets & edges of lowland peatbogs of England, Wales and South Scotland.

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Willow Tit by Paul Driver, Xeno-canto.mp
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Fascinating Facts

The willow tit shows off a large sooty-black cap along with a small black bib. Being pale brown on top and with buff underparts, it is easy to confuse with the marsh tit. You will need to look out for a pale panel on its wings, for the perfect identification. Fitting in between blue tits and great tits in size, another sure way to know you’ve spotted a willow tit would be its distinctive ‘zee zee zee’ call.

Willow tits are a sedentary species preferring not to travel long distances, especially across open landscapes. They live in wet, deciduous and coniferous woodlands and rarely venture from the dense scrub or hedgerows. Their diet mostly consists of insects but they will eat berries and seeds over the winter months when food is scarce. You may occasionally see willow tits on your feeders, however, these small birds are independent scavengers and seem to prefer looking for their own food, rather than relying on bird feeders for regular meals!

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Breeding starts around mid-April. Unusually for a member of the tit family, the willow tit excavates a nest hole in decaying trees or stumps, where the wood is soft. This is done by the female, and she will then use wood chippings, feathers and hair to line her nest. The excavation process is long and exhausting, and sadly, if they lose a brood, a pair may not have the energy to try again that year.

There are usually between six and eight, small white–brown speckled eggs in a clutch. Willow tits have been known to make their homes in nest boxes on occasion and will sometimes use a woodpecker hole. The eggs are incubated for around two weeks and the young are fed by both parents.

Willow tits and marsh tits are easily confused, even by the best birders. In fact, they are so similar that the willow tit was the last regularly breeding British bird to be identified and named in 1897, before that there were only marsh tits!

The willow tit is the UK’s most threatened resident bird with declines of 92% in the past 5 decades. Habitat loss such as hedgerows and reduction in quality of damp young woodland have all contributed to willow tit decline.

A decline in habitat quality also means their choice of nest site, standing deadwood low to the ground, becomes more vulnerable to predators such as the great spotted woodpecker.