Paridae - Tits (Mésanges)

This family is one of the most common in Switzerland and indeed in Europe - it is the Western equivalent of what is known in North America as Chickadees.

In Switzerland our variety of habitats gives a wide variety of species in this family and in these pages you can find:


Long Tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Mésange à longue queue
Marsh Tit Parus palustris Mésange nonnette
Willow Tit Parus montanus Mésange boréale
Crested Tit Parus cristatus Mésange huppée
Coal Tit Parus ater Mésange noire
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus Mésange bleue
Great Tit Parus major Mésange charbonnière

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:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(That was a Mistle Thrush singing in the background)

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


(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:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

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

 

MARSH TIT (Parus palustris)

Mésange nonnette

Despite its name this is a woodland bird, favouring oak woods and riverine forests, but aslo found in mixed woods up to 1000m and beyond. A very active "busy" bird it is very difficult to distinguish from the Willow Tit by eye, but is readily picked out by ear because of its very clear, disyllabic, explosive "pit-choo" call. This can have several variants, here is a compilation of two different recordings - the first call is what I would say is the "classic" and the second seems to have three syllables in it and is more complex, you can also hear the second bird following the call with a quick "churr" noise:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

What I call the "classic" above is actually quite complex in shape but the "choo" is a very strong note descending from about 8Khz to 3Khz in a few milliseconds - it has a sort of hockey-stick shape to it:

For comparisons sake here on the same scale is the second variant from the above sequence where you can actually see the three syllables and the little "churr" thrown in almost as an after-thought !

The song is not elaborate but is a series of clear whistles strung together in rapid succession:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

But a look at the sonogram shows that in fact these song notes are very much like the "hockey-stick" part of the call, only a little lower in pitch and with a faster delivery:

These two deliveries - the song and the call - can be quickly interchanged with each other. One March day I found that I had wandered into a battle ground where two territories came together, or maybe it was two testosterone loaded males battling over the same patch:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

WILLOW TIT (Parus montanus)

Mésange boréale

Willow_Tit.jpg

The Willow Tit is very difficult to tell visually from the Marsh Tit it has dull black cap as opposed to glossy, and in summer has a small pale patch in the wing but both of these are really difficult to see. As its name suggests it is commoner at higher elevations than the Marsh Tit, but both can be found together. It is therefore fortuitous for bird watchers that their calls and songs are completely different (so compare with the Marsh Tit page).

The most distinctive sound is the nasally scolding call that is not only used for alarm but is also used for contact purposes:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Like such calls we can find elsewhere it contains a wide range of frequencies (a sort of Willow Tit broadband !) and can be difficult to locate as a consequence:

The song is a series of repeated, rather plaintive downwards inflected whistles - "tsui, tsui, tsui"

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The shape of the sonogram being quite distinctive:

It is possible to confuse the song of the Willow Tit with the "pluie" song of the Wood Warbler . To my ears the Willow Tit is slower and more deliberate, the Wood Warbler slightly faster and for reasons I cannot explain sounds a bit more plaintive. Here is a mixed file of three Wood warbler, three Willow Tit song sequences, then three Wood Warbler again:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

If you review the sonogram of this same file you can see that the Wood Warbler (first three) descends much faster and is delivered more rapidly than the Willow Tit (the second three):

(NB: the timing between phrases (but not the notes) was shortened in those to make the files smaller)

 

UPDATE AUG 2011 SUB-SPECIES DIFFERENCES: These recordings were made in the Jura, north of Lake Geneva which is about the southern limit of the central European sub-species Parus montanus salicarius. In the Alps and to the south of Lake Geneva is found what we call the nominate sub-species (i.e. the one to which the original name was given before other sub-species were discovered) this is Parus montanus montanus and this which has a different song where the individual notes do not descend but are of fairly constant pitch - here is a recording I made in the Lower Engadine:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This is much faster, not as deliberate, and even though each run descends in pitch slightly in pitch the single notes are fairly even. It becomes clearer if you hear them side by side (salicarius first):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


and very clear from the spectrogram:

Maumary, Valloton, and Knause (2007) also note that in Switzerland a third sub-species P.m.rhenanus can be found in the lowlands of the plateau, but subtle plumage differences rather than voice seem to be the only way to identify this one. For more on all of this also see Cramp et al (1977-1994).

 

 

 

 

CRESTED TIT (Parus cristatus)

 

Mésange huppée

 

 

The Crested Tit is a pretty little member of this family. In Switzerland it is common throughout coniferous forests and although it can be found at low elevations (sometimes in winter on my bird feeder at 600m) it is commonest above about 900m up to the treeline. I have found it rather silent compared to others in this family and I have yet to identify what I would call a "real song" - a series of chirrups and chatters is what I mostly hear, sometimes hard to pick out amongst a background of thrushes and chaffinches:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This squeaky single note call is interspersed with other chatters. If you listen carefully the tone of the squeak, whilst fairly piercing, is somewhat slurred, rising sharply and then falling away at the end. This can be seen in the sonogram, the note is like an inverted "U" shape:

 

 

 

 

 

Some authors refer to a gentle "purring sound" sometimes used in courtship, there were two birds present when I made this recording and if you listen carefully to the last fifteen seconds or so of the sequence you can hear an almost insect like purring noise from one of the birds with some very strange, very rapid squeaks in there too, they almost look as though two notes are being called at the same time:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to top