The great tit is great indeed. Not only is this bird the largest of the European tits, but it is also one of the most diverse, with more than a dozen recognized subspecies even after a split in 2005 separated some of the more distinct variations into their own species.
Great Tit, Grey Tit
- Bill: Short, stubby and blunt, black
- Size: 5-5.5 inches long with 9-10-inch wingspan, large head, plump body
- Colors: Olive, yellow, blue, white, gray, buff, black
- Markings: Genders are similar though males are generally brighter and have a wider black band down the chest. The head is boldly marked with white auriculars outlined in black, including a black crown and throat. The back and shoulders are olive-yellow, and the wings are blue-gray with a single white wing bar and black edging on the feathers. The rump and tail are also blue-gray. The underparts are bright yellow fading to white on the lower abdomen and undertail coverts, and a wide black stripe runs from the throat to the undertail coverts.
Juveniles have similar but less defined markings, including less black on the face and a broken chest line. The cheeks are more buff or yellow colored rather than bright white.
Because of the large number of subspecies, there is considerable variation in overall color among great tits of different geographic regions, with some birds appearing much more brightly colored than others.
Insects, spiders, caterpillars, seeds, nuts, berries (See: Insectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These birds prefer open deciduous woodlands with abundant oak and beech trees that sport heavy nut crops. They can also be found in parks, gardens and even urban and suburban areas where trees are plentiful.
The typical range of the great tit extends from Ireland and the United Kingdom – though absent from northernmost Scotland – through southern Scandanavia and east through Russia. Toward the south, these birds can be found as far as Spain and Portugal as well as northwestern Africa, and they are also found in northern Israel and in the Middle East.
Great tits have a sweet, cheerful song that is a series of high-low notes repeated in a regular cadence. The overall pitch is quite high, and these can be noisy birds that will sing and call throughout the year.
These are intelligent birds that have even learned to peck through foil caps on delivered milk to expose the cream on top. They are acrobatic foragers and will hold nuts and seeds between their feet to peck them open and expose the edible meat. While they are generally aggressive in protecting their own territory, they do form mixed flocks with other tits in winter.
These are monogamous birds. As a cavity-nesting species they seek out suitable holes in dead trees or rock crevices, but are equally likely to use appropriate bird houses. The cup-shaped nest is constructed of grass, moss and wool and is often lined with down or feathers. The eggs are a glossy white with red or reddish-purple spots. Great tits lay large broods of 5-18 eggs, though fewer than 12 eggs per single brood is most typical. A mated pair may lay 1-2 broods per year.
The female parent incubates the eggs for 12-15 days while the male parent brings her food. After hatching, the altricial young are cared for by both parents for an additional 16-25 days, though second broods may be cared for even longer. While the chicks are young, both parents will remove fecal sacs as well as work to feed the hatchlings.
Attracting Great Tits:
These birds will easily visit bird feeders where peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds and suet are available, and they will frequent either platform feeding stations or vertical tube or mesh feeders. They will also use bird houses, and planting oak and beech trees provides a natural food source for great tits to enjoy. Similarly, insecticide use should be minimized because these birds eat a great number of insects.
Great tits are not threatened or endangered, though predators can be a problem for some regional breeding success and protecting bird houses from predators is essential to avoid local declines. Overall, however, the great tit’s range is expanding, due in large part to the increasing use of bird feeders and the availability of bird houses and nesting boxes.