Long Tailed Tit AB 05122007 339LONG TAILED TIT (Aegithalos caudatus)

Mésange à longue queue

First a brief apology to the taxonomists who may read this site. For the sake of the main menu to the left I am clumping this bird together with the Paridae. It actually occupies a family Aegithalidae of which it is the sole representative in Europe, but this way I can keep the menu a little shorter and not add another family for just one species - it will be correctly marked in the Family list I promise !

Weighing in at 7-8g this is a bird only slightly bigger than the Goldcrest and like that species it is constantly active looking for food. Coupled with that it is a very sociable species and usually found in flocks which constantly communicate to keep together, so you end up with a sometimes quite large flock of these small fluffy things that look like darts, fluttering through the trees looking for insects twittering and calling constantly. Studies have shown that members of these flocks are mostly related to each other, often adults with recent offspring (they can lay up to 12 eggs), these flocks will defend territories against other flocks, so the whole affair can get quite noisy despite the small size of the individuals involved. Another interesting factoid is that flocks will roost together at night - huddling up close on a branch to keep warm and conserve energy.

In Switzerland they are present all year round, usually below 1000m in scrub and deciduous woodland. They are widespread north of the alps but usually only found in the low valleys of the mountains.

 

As above, the most commonly heard sounds are a series of calls as flocks move about, these calls can become combined into a faster series of sounds that are referred to by some authors as "song", but I have not recorded this. There are two calls that are most common, one is high pitched "sweet, sweet" often given in pairs or triplets:

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(That was a Mistle Thrush singing in the background)

Another sound commonly heard is a sort of soft churring noise - "prrt"

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(That was a Green Woodpecker making its "yaffle" call at 17s, and the loud "wink" are from a Chaffinch nearby)

As you can tell from these the two calls can be mixed together along with other soft noises, and the whole lot can actually carry a long way, especially in winter when an active flock passes through and there may be little other noise.

Here is an active flock where you can hear it all going on:

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UPDATE DECEMBER 2010

The "normal" Long-tailed Tit (or Long-tailed Bush-tit as it is sometime called) in Switzerland is Aegithalos caudatus europaeus , the third name makes reference to the sup-species resident in central Europe. Typically this has a broad greyish-brown stripe above the eye as in the two photos above and on the left. Occasionally the A.c.europaeus sub-species lacks the stripe and has a head which is very pale, as in the photo above right. But note that even here there is a little grey area above and behind the eye.

However there is another sub-species, Aegithalus caudatus caudatus, which occurs in Fenno-Scandia and northern Europe east to the Ural mountains (Cramp et al). This sub-species (called the "nominate" sub-species - the first named and hence carries the same specific and sub-species name) has a pure white head. Jansen and Nap have studied the identification of this bird in Netherlands where they say it is recorded more or less annually, and both it and europaeus undergo occasional irruptive movements in the autumn. Such a movement seems to have have occurred in 2010 with the caudatus sub-species having been recorded in considerable numbers across the northern plain of Switzerland with a few records in the alpine valleys with records right up to the date of writing (4th December).

Interestingly this invasion of birds from the north has been followed by extensive cold weather in late November with western Switzerland experiencing one of its earliest and heaviest snowfalls on record between November 30th and December 1st. Arlette was able to get a lovely photograph which I am including here for interest, I have not been able to record the voice but she tells me it sounds exactly the same as europaeus. A map of the invasion is well recorded here: http://www.ornitho.ch

 

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