One of the most numerous and popular garden birds in Europe, the blue tit is welcome in many birder’s backyards because of its colorful plumage, pleasant song and insect-hungry appetite. Inquisitive and active, these small birds are popular with birders in many European countries, and are a hot bird for visiting birders to add to their life lists.
Blue Tit, European Blue Tit, Little Billy Biter
Cyanistes caeruleus (formerly Parus caeruleus)
- Bill: Short and stubby, dark
- Size: 4.5 inches long with 7-8-inch wingspan, short neck, round head
- Colors: Blue, white, black, olive, yellow, gray
- Markings: Genders are similar but females tend to have duller colors overall. The face has bold markings with white cheeks surrounded by a thin dark blue or black band that extends from the bill through the eye to the nape, including a dark chin and thin dark necklace. The forehead is white and the crown is blue. The back is olive yellow-green, while the wings are blue with one plain white wing bar. The underparts are yellow that can range from a bright shade to a dull yellow-gray, and a blurry dark vertical line can be seen on the lower abdomen. The tail is plain blue above and paler below, and the undertail coverts may be pale yellow or whitish. The eyes are dark and the legs and feet are black. Juvenile birds have similar markings but show more yellow overall and their blue plumage is duller.
Insects, spiders, seeds, nuts, sap, pollen, tree buds (See: Insectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
The blue tit is a common year-round resident in much of Europe. Its range extends from Ireland and the United Kingdom to southern and central Scandanavia and east to western Russia, Turkey and northern Iran and Iraq. In the southwest, the blue tit’s range extends to Spain and Portugal as well as into northern Africa. While widespread, they do tend to be absent from the highest mountain regions. Blue tits do not migrate, but may descend from a high elevation to a lower one in severe winters, and some of the very northernmost populations may migrate in harsh winters as well.
The blue tit’s typical song is a high-pitched warble that begins with a short piercing whistle and is followed by several rapid warbling syllables with changing or alternating pitches. Their songs and calls can be quite varied and include buzzes, whistles and “tseeer-tseeer-tseeer” calls. They may sing all year round.
The blue tit is an active, inquisitive bird. They are agile foragers and will nimbly dangle upside down from thin twigs or stalks while searching for insects. After the breeding season, they may form large flocks mixed with other tit species and similar small birds.
One unique study of blue tit behavior discovered this species’ intelligence in an unusual way. In the mid- to late-1900s when milk was delivered in foil-capped bottles, the birds learned which foil covers indicated whole, full fat milk and would peck through the foil to drink the cream that had risen to the top of the bottles. This behavior is less frequently observed today because much less milk is delivered in this fashion.
These birds mate after courtship rituals that include sharing food, singing and displaying short crest feathers. As cavity-nesting birds, blue tits build a cup-shaped nest from hair, moss, wool, lichens, feathers and similar materials, and it may be built in a nesting box or other sheltered location, though they can be creative with nest placement. The eggs are white with purple-red or brown-red spots, and the female parent incubates them for 12-16 days, during which time she will defend the nest from intruders by hissing or biting. After hatching, both parents feed the altricial young for 14-22 days. Broods are large and may contain 6-12 eggs, but only one brood is laid per year.
Blue tits have been recorded as hybridizing with azure tits where the ranges of the two species overlap.
Attracting Blue Tits:
These birds easily come to backyards where peanuts, suet, sunflower seeds and coconuts are offered. Hedgerows and thicket-like landscaping will help attract blue tits with appropriate shelter, and they will also visit bird baths to drink.
These birds are not considered widely threatened, though a cold, wet spring can drastically reduce their annual breeding success and populations may drop as a result. They also regularly compete with the larger and more aggressive house sparrows and great tits for nesting sites, but the use of nesting boxes can help counteract that impact.