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What Are These Garden Birds?

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 4 Apr 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Birds Long-tailed Tit Tits Flight Call

Q.

I have had some new birds visit my feeder today and I haven't been able to identify them. Can you help please?

I had to grab my camera so I'm afraid I didn't get a great shot. I think the two to the right are the same type of bird. The one on the red feeder may be different.

(Nicola Kinsey, 20 March 2009)

A.

I wouldn’t like to swear to it, but I think the two on the lamppost-like structure in your photo are Long-Tailed Tits ( Aegithalos caudatus) – a fairly little-known, but not uncommon, British resident distinguished by the lengthy tail which gives it it’s common name.

Noisy Chaps and Undulating Fliers

You’ll probably be able to tell me instantly if I’m right in my identification since if your visitors really were Long-Tailed Tits, you’d probably have noticed the noise they were making! Often rather quaintly described in the books as “garrulous”, these attractive little chaps tend to make quite a din, especially when they turn up in their characteristic small flocks of twenty or so individuals. Their call is like someone repeatedly saying “shrimp” and then trilling “sea-sea-sea” – which seems an oddly coastal-sounding call for a bird of hedgerows and gardens!

Although they frequent gardens, often in the company of other tits, they generally seem more reluctant that their brethren to feed from bird tables and although in the autumn and winter they will eat seeds, insects are their food of choice.

They are fascinating little birds, being the only European member of a largely Asian family and are unusual amongst tits in having a particularly complex social behaviour, which is not, as yet, entirely understood. If they do pay a return visit, try to watch how they move; the Long-Tailed Tit typically has a more undulating flight than most of its relations, which might help clinch the identification – one way or the other!

The Bird on the Red Feeder

As for the bird on the red feeder, I have to confess I’m having problems making any kind of intelligent suggestion. That creamy chest and belly (assuming it’s not been simply bleached out in the photo by the sun) makes me think of a warbler – and that might just be an eye-stripe visible – though the bird seems a bit portly and the beak is difficult to see; I think it was moving when you took the picture, so it looks slightly blurred. If you live in Ireland, South or West Wales, the West Country or the South Coast I’d risk a wild guess at a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) – a winter resident in those parts – but I’m not convinced. If you live elsewhere then I’m afraid I’m just going to have to admit defeat!

I’m sorry not to be more certain, but I hope this may have been of some help – even if it only gives you a place to start looking in your bird book. Good luck with your bird watching.

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