The Long-tailed Tit—an Amazing Architect
By “Awake!” correspondent in the British Isles
THE day was warm and still, the air heavy with the scent of May blossom. There I sat by the slow-moving river watching trout rise to a dancing throng of Mayfly.
A twittering in the trees then drew my attention. Above was a party of long-tailed tits in the overhanging branches of the old beech tree. I remembered a cold day in March when I had come upon a pair of these tits in the process of building their intricate domed nest. It was in a gorse bush about half a mile downriver.
Architects at Work
As I watched, both the male and the female brought building materials into the nest, which was about five feet (1.5 m) from the ground. The long-tailed tit is an amazing architect, for the elaborate nest is among the most wonderful anyone could wish to see. It is built by a bird that is only five and a half inches (14 cm) long. More than half of that length is taken up by the tail. The nest is only a little longer than the bird, and at first glance looks like a ball of lichen.
The tits worked hard for two weeks after making the basic structure. How busy they were, piecing in lichen, animal hair and cobwebs, patiently forming the oval-shaped domed nest with the entrance hole near the top! I knew it would be finished for egg-laying time in April and May.
When building a nest, some birds form the framework first, adding the lining of feathers later. But not so the long-tailed tits. They begin with the bottom and then, as the walls go upward, they complete the nest as they go along, working from the inside. So when the roof is reached and the last piece of lichen is placed in position, the inside is ready to receive the eggs, usually eight to 12 of them. The eggs are white with red-brown freckles.
After 16 days of incubation, mainly by the female, the young are hatched, and they leave the nest after 14 days. The majority of nests contain eight to 10 chicks and one might wonder how they all obtain an equal supply of food, for when they hear the parents approaching there is only room for two heads at the entrance hole. There is always a struggle to get to the entrance, and when the fortunate ones get their beaks out, they remain there until they are satisfied. Then they drop back and two more push forward. So it goes all day long.
A Closer Look at the Nest
Some years ago I removed an old long-tailed tits’ nest from a bush in early winter, long after nesting was over, and set myself the task of counting the feathers of its lining. I found that it contained up to 2,400 and, as they had been collected from a distance of several hundred yards, the birds must have traveled many miles each day before the nest was completed.
As the young birds grow, the nest becomes very crowded. But this is where the cobweb used in its construction comes to their assistance. The interior expands and the lichens are put under severe strain but will not break open because of the resilience of the fine, strong thread of the woven cobweb. What these amazing architects of birdland can do! Really, though, this is yet another evidence of the Grand Creator’s wisdom.
[Picture on page 24]
Young tits demand food at entrance of domed nest