Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus)
[order] Passeriformes | [family] Paridae | [latin] Parus cristatus | [UK] Crested Tit | [FR] Mésange huppée | [DE] Haubenmeise | [ES] Herrerillo Capuchino | [IT] Cincia dal ciuffo | [NL] Kuifmees
spanwidth min.: 17 cm
spanwidth max.: 20 cm
size min.: 10 cm
size max.: 12 cm
incubation min.: 13 days
incubation max.: 16 days
fledging min.: 18 days
fledging max.: 22 days
eggs min.: 6
eggs max.: 7
The crested tit is a small bird between 11-12 cm. in length, with a wingspan of 17-20 cm. and weighing between 10-13 gm. The plumage is brown on the upper parts and whitish-grey on the underside, with buff-coloured flanks. The head is greyish-white, with a black patch on the underside of the chin and a black stripe which goes through the eye and backwards on the head, before curving, in a parabolic shape, forwards again lower down. The distinctive crest, from which the bird derives both its common and scientific names, is chequered in black and white, and stands up prominently from the head. Male and female birds are similar in colouration, but juveniles are browner and their crests are less pointed.
From upper to lower middle latitudes of west Palearctic, mainly in dry cool or warm continental temperate climates within July isotherms c. 12-22°C, extending at fringe into Mediterranean montane zone, and ascending to treeline; also in low-lying coastal woods in western and south-western Europe. In northern Europe, prefers pine forest, mixed woods being occupied further south, and beech forest in Pyrénées; in southern Spain, common in cork oak.
Parus cristatus is a widespread resident across much of Europe, which constitutes >95% of its global range. Its European breeding population is very large (>6,100,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although most European populations remained stable or increased during 1990-2000, the sizeable population in Russia declined, and the species underwent a moderate decline (>10%) overall. Consequently, this previously Secure species is now provisionally evaluated as Declining.
The diet of the crested tit consists mainly of insects and spiders, and a wide range of species are taken. In the Caledonian pinewood remnants, foraging takes place on the trunks and large branches of the old pines, and also amongst the needles. The bird exhibits great agility in searching for food, with upside-down being as effective for foraging as a normal upright position. It has been suggested that the tit's preference for old trees may be due to the greater abundance of lichens on them - the lichens are fed upon by insects such as springtails and bark lice, and these are eaten by spiders, which, in turn, are an important food source for the crested tit. In April, the diet is supplemented by Scots pine seeds, which are extracted from the cones as they dry and open on the trees. In autumn, moth larvae are an important food source, especially larvae of the bordered white or pine looper moth (Bupalus piniaria), which are common at this time of year. In winter, the crested tit forages for food in the heather (Calluna vulgaris) on the forest floor, and the greater abundance of heather in ancient pinewoods, compared to pine plantations, has been proposed as a reason for the higher density of birds in the former. The crested tit caches food for later consumption - in the spring, pine seeds are stored, and in the autumn, moth larvae are stored, usually under lichen on the branches of trees. This is thought to be a strategy to help the bird survive through the winter, when food is scarcer.
Breeding usually begins in late March, when a pair of birds will search for a suitable nesting site. In most cases, this will be a hole in a standing dead tree, or snag, which is excavated by the birds themselves. In the Caledonian Forest, nests are mainly in Scots pine snags, and these need to have been dead for about ten years in order for the sapwood (the section of the tree between the bark and the tough, inner heartwood) to have been softened up enough by saprotrophic fungi for the birds to excavate a nest chamber. Because pine snags can persist for several decades before falling, an individual snag will be eused, although a new nest chamber will be excavated each time. The crested tit has also been recorded using old nest holes made by the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and dreys made by the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).
Excavation of the nest chamber takes about three weeks, and is done exclusively by the female. Another five or six days are spent making the nest from moss, with glittering wood-moss (Hylocomium splendens) mainly used for this. Lichens, deer hair, spiders' webs and occasionally feathers are used to line the nest cup. In late April or early May the female lays between four and eight small eggs, which are white with reddish-brown speckles, and measure 16 mm. by 13 mm. These are incubated by the female for 13-16 days, before hatching in mid- to late May. The young are initially fed by both parents, but at some stage one or other adult will take sole responsibility for bringing food to the nest. The chicks fledge 17-22 days after hatching, and are dependent on their parents for about another 23 days, with whom they forage for food.
Extremely sedentary over most of range, movements generally confined to local summer dispersal of newly independent young and some redistribution at start of breeding season. Exceptional wandering in winter up to 50-100 km. In east of range reported to occur, rarely, well away from known breeding areas in winter.