Blue tit perched
Blue tit perched

Blue Tit – Small and beautiful

It’s easy to get excited about the seasonal return of the favourites of many such as the European bee-eaters, golden orioles and birds of prey such as the short-toed eagle, and often the smaller, more common resident birds are over-looked.

I’ve had a lot of pleasure recently watching a few pairs of blue tits visiting the garden plants, clearing them of insects and returning to their nest locations nearby.

I’m often asked, usually with giggles, by people with English as a second language why the birds in the Paridae family are called “tits”. It is believed that the name derived from the Old-English word “titmose”, which means ‘small bird’.

As you’d expect, the (Eurasian) blue tit is a small bird measuring only 12cm in length, with a wingspan of 18cm and weighing just 11 grams. The name gives away its colours of various shades of blue with a yellow-green back. They display an incredible bright yellow chest, which is due to the number of yellow and green caterpillars they eat and the carotene they ingest.

Blue tit feeding underneath a branch
Blue tit feeding underneath a branch

Even though the Blue Tit can be found in many locations in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, there are many different subspecies. The Latin species name is Cyanistes caeruleus with the local Cyanistes caeruleus ogliastrae being found in Portugal, Spain, Corsica and Sardinia. In contrast, the Cyanistes caeruleus obscurus is the species found in the UK and Ireland.

Although these subspecies exist, there is little difference to the naked eye. This is also the case for the sexes with both male and female being almost identical apart from the male’s blue colouring being slightly brighter; however, this is almost impossible to notice.

They can be found almost anywhere, from the forests in the Algarve hills to a hotel poolside garden in Praia da Oura. They are also quite relaxed with human presence, making it easy for them to be observed and photographed.

Outside of the breeding season, you can also find blue tits mixed with other tit species forming small flocks. The combination of their lightness and acrobatic skills enables blue tits to hang upside down on flowers, collecting insects.

Blue tit perched
Blue tit perched

Although small, they certainly show their presence with their very vocal calls. I have seen other bird species disperse into hiding or even gather in small flocks when an alarm call from a blue tit is belted out. You will often hear blue tits constantly communicating with each other with the contact-calls. Fledglings also have a “feed me” call as well!

Their diet consists of mainly insects, with caterpillars being a favourite, but also seeds and buds are consumed.

For those that lived in the UK in the days when milkmen used to deliver glass bottles, you may remember that the blue tit would not only be able to open the foil bottle tops to raid the cream at the top, but it is also suggested they could identify the colour of the tops to avoid the skimmed milk that had no cream.

Blue tit singing, backlit by the sunset
Blue tit singing, backlit by the sunset

In the breeding season, nests are made inside small tree hollows (which is why bird boxes are a favourite) with the pair usually returning to the same hole each year, although they can often have competition from other birds such as sparrows and other tit species.

The female can lay a clutch of up to 12 eggs. If they all successfully hatch, just imagine how many times a day a single caterpillar is brought to the nest to feed each hatchling. This is why you will often see so many of them in the breeding season. It’s tough being a blue tit parent!

By Craig Rogers
|| features@algarveresident.com

Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography