DSC2503 Long-tailed Tit...
Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos Caudatus
The long-tailed tit is globally widespread throughout temperate northern Europe and Asia, into boreal Scandinavia and south into the Mediterranean zone. It inhabits deciduous and mixed woodland with a well-developed shrub layer, favouring edge habitats. It can also be found in scrub, heathland with scattered trees, bushes and hedges, in farmland and riverine woodland, parks and gardens. The bird's year-round diet of insects and social foraging bias habitat choice in winter towards deciduous woodland, typically of oak, ash and locally sycamore species. For nesting, strong preference is shown towards scrub areas. The nest is often built in thorny bushes less than 3 metres above the ground.
The nest of the long-tailed tit is constructed from four materials - lichen, feathers, spider egg cocoons and moss, with over 6,000 pieces used for a typical nest. The nest is a flexible sac with a small, round entrance on top, suspended either low in a gorse or bramble bush or high up in the forks of tree branches. The structural stability of the nest is provided by a mesh of moss and spider silk. The tiny leaves of the moss act as hooks and the spider silk of egg cocoons provides the loops; thus forming a natural form of velcro. The tit lines the outside with hundreds of flakes of pale lichens - this provides camouflage. Inside, it lines the nest with more than 2,000 downy feathers to insulate the nest. Nests suffer a high rate of predation with only 17% success.
Outside the breeding season they form compact flocks of 6 to 17 birds, composed of family parties (parents and offspring) from the previous breeding season, together with any extra adults that helped to raise a brood. These flocks will occupy and defend territories against neighbouring flocks. The driving force behind the flocking behaviour is thought to be that of winter roosting, being susceptible to cold; huddling increases survival through cold nights.
From July to February, the non-breeding season, long-tailed tits form flocks of relatives and non-relatives, roosting communally. When the breeding season begins, the flocks break up, and the birds attempt to breed in monogamous pairs. Males remain within the winter territory, while females have a tendency to wander to neighbouring territories.
Pairs whose nests fail have three choices: try again, abandon nesting for the season or help at a neighbouring nest. It has been shown that failed pairs split and help at the nests of male relatives, recognition being established vocally. The helped nests have greater success due to higher provisioning rates and better nest defence. At the end of the breeding season, in June–July, the birds reform the winter flocks in their winter territory.