The Monthly Web Magazine for Birdwatchers   
Home Bird Guide Features Birding news and events Bird reserves Birdwatching Clubs Mystery Bird Quiz Birdwatching FAQ's Bird Shop
 
 Marsh Tit - Fact File

Marsh Tit

Parus palustris
Widely but rather locally distributed resident in England and Wales north to S.E. Scotland. Absent from Ireland.
Despite it's name, found in woods, especially open oak-wood, hedgerows, copses and more rarely in gardens. Breeds in ready-made tree holes (and nest boxes).

Very similar in appearance to Willow Tit. Does not normally show a distinct wing patch like Willow Tit does, and is slimmer around the neck. Cap glossy in good light. Best distinguished by voice - see article.

11.5cm (4.5")
 

Marsh Tit

This species has long suffered from confusion with other tits displaying black caps. Not until the turn of the century was the willow tit recognised as distinct from the marsh tit in this country. Even then it was often treated as a sub-species of the black-capped chickadee. However, full separation came in the mid-1950s on plumage, call-notes and breeding behaviour.

One means of distinguishing the willow tit from the marsh tit is by call notes. The characteristic call of the former is a prolonged harsh and very grating 'tchay' suggestive of the distant alarm of a jay. This sound is quite unlike any made by a marsh tit which has a distinctive 'pitchu' call. Some male willow tits sing very little; others provide a cadence of 'sweet warbling notes of striking richness and comparable with those of canary and nightingale.

Another major identification factor is nesting habits. Marsh tits use natural holes. Willow tits excavate their own next-cavity in very soft rotten wood of birch, willow, alder or elder. Although sometimes 20 feet up, the nest is often within two or three feet of the ground in a stump, which may be used in successive years although a fresh hole is made. Such cavities may later be occupied by great, blue or marsh tits or by redstarts.

During nest excavation wood chips are sometimes dropped below the entrance, but are often carried 40 or more feet away. At times the bottom of the hole extends 11 or more inches down.

Like all tits, the willow tit is very active when feeding, flitting constantly from twig to twig, searching for insects often among low bushes but also high in conifers, birch and alders. Small fruits and berries, including spindle and honeysuckle, are often eaten; a bunch of thistle fruits may be carried to a branch and held down by a foot while seeds are removed and swallowed.


Habitat preferences are often ill-defined but marsh tits tend to prefer drier broad-leaved woodland and show a greater fondness for gardens - particularly in autumn. Willow tits favour conifers and marshy spots or the vicinity of water. The very extensive alder carrs along the upper reaches of the Broadland rivers are particularly favoured by them.

Michael J. Seago

Return to Bird Guide Index

Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.