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Coal tits


by Richard Jones

[...] with perfect timing, announced by a series of metallic 'tsit tsit tsit' notes, a small gang of titmice comes bobbing over the hedges.


Coal tit, image copyright Ray Kennedy / RSPBIt’s all looking rather still and damp in the garden now. Autumn, it seems, has come at last. Over the Guy Fawkes weekend, there were reports on iSpot and Flickr of red admirals and hoverflies visiting the sun-lit ivy, but, in my garden at least, most of the ivy flowers are over and many of the large black berries are already well-developed.

I’m rather depressed by the fact that yet another front garden is being concreted further up the road, so I peer out with the binoculars, from the fire-escape balcony, over the block of back gardens, to see if I can spot any life anywhere. And with perfect timing, announced by a series of metallic ‘tsit tsit tsit’ notes, a small gang of titmice comes bobbing over the hedges and lands in next-door’s cherry tree. Brilliant.

There are four of them, and they do the airborne equivalent of scurrying about, spending a few moments examining the rather twisted apple tree and the lichen-coated pear tree, before bouncing down to the feeders and fat balls to practice their acrobatics.

It is a strange habit of these endearing and pretty little birds that, come winter, they congregate together in mixed-species flocks. And sure enough, as I struggle to adjust the focusing to keep up with their quick movements, I can make out a great tit, two blue tits and a coal tit.

Now I have to admit that I’m not really much of a bird-watcher, and it slowly dawns on me that I think this is the first time I have ever seen a coal tit out there. An oversight, I’m sure. It is exactly as I expected — smaller and duller than a great-tit, more monochrome and discrete than a blue tit. It’s as if it is trying to remain incognito amongst the crowd.

Actually, that’s probably what all of them are trying to do. There is no better way to hide than in a crowd, and gathering together in a flock offers safety in numbers. The coal tit, it seems, demure, restrained and much less bright in its plumage, is master of this art. That’s obviously why I’ve never seen one before.



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Gardeners' World Web User 09/11/2011 at 09:01

I must keep an eye out for them, Richard, as they favour next door's garden. They should be arriving in Bristol about now. It is usually the bluetits that I spot first, as you say - not so good at camouflage.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/11/2011 at 09:10

Coal Tits are all over Belfast it seems. I moved into this house September 2009 and the Coal Tit was actually the first bird to visit the bird table. Plenty have been around since and what a great bird to watch, quite the acrobat, as you say.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/11/2011 at 10:57

we have plenty of blue-tits,coal-tits and great-tits in our garden,over the harsh winter last year,i counted over 12 coming out of a bird-box on our house,it was so sweet,as i pulled up in my car i noticed them and just sat in my car counting and watching them... i also have a little wren [think thats what it is],and he or she has taken up residents in a bug box on our wall,theres a tiny tiny gap about inch or so and ive seen it go back and fourth in it.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/11/2011 at 18:23

Have just found this page, and am thrilled to read the comments on the lovely article. I love to watch the birds taking turns in the bird bath. Great tit, then Wren, and Robin after Blackbird.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/11/2011 at 19:06

I haven't seen any coal tits but I do have lots of blue tits and sparrows and a lovely robin who is getting very brave at getting closer and closer to me when I am in the garden. I just love the birds and stand for ages watching them from my kitchen window.

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