Tit bits

Blue Tit on Feeder: Library Picture

Writing here at my desk by the porch window I hear a low rat a tat tat noise somewhere. Turning I see at the garden window the familiar form of a blue tit doing something decidedly unfamiliar. Seemingly feasting with its needle bill on what to me are invisible specks of food on the glass. Either that or it’s trying to tell me to put more fat balls in the feeder that hangs there on its metal crook pole. But no, the little birds constant foraging are at the heart of the matter. Lack of observation on my part means am late to discover what the tribe of them have been up to out there. In refilling the feeder I suddenly see the damage they’ve done to the wooden window frame around those small panes. Tranches of wood excavated in the search for insects or larva. Another repair job for the next spell of dry weather. I promptly move pole & container further off, repositioning it in the arc of studio bed recently cleared, weeded and mulched with bark by Kim.

Wytham Woods Nesting Box in Spring

This event revived awed childhood memories of the ravages inflicted by tits on our doorstep delivery of gold top milk bottles of a winter morning. It also reminded me of something I’d come across much more recently: references to one of the longest ecological studies of marked individual wild animals in the world, here on our national doorstep. Wytham Woods is an extensive ancient broadleaf woodland donated by a local land owning family to nearby Oxford University during WW2. This ‘laboratory with leaves,’ run by the department of Zoology, is also open to the public at set times during the year. The university’s scientists have been methodically studying 40 generations of the titmice family and the interdependent ecological community in which they live since 1947. There are now 1,000 numbered nest boxes throughout the woods and every nestling is tagged. In the autumn and winter a grid of feeders operate twice a week and all birds visiting are recorded and logged on camera. Perhaps the most significant discovery made by this extraordinary study relates to climate change. The birds now breed three weeks earlier than they did in the 1960’s. Spring arrives sooner than it did and oak trees are coming in to leaf earlier. Caterpillars feed on the emergent leaves and the birds predate large numbers of them to feed their large brood of nestlings. The parents, the study also shows, can adjust egg incubation depending on the glut or scarcity of the caterpillars. Another fascinating aspect of social behaviour concerns bird interaction when moving in flocks on winter forage. Come breeding time they will choose to site their nests nearest those who have already proved good neighbours; respecting territorial boundaries or who best co-operate in dealing with predators. The official website has links and extracts from TV news or features about the study. http://wythamtits.com/#what-is-the-wytham-tit-project


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *