Yesterday I found a joyous treasure secreted in a bramble thicket, more valuable and beautiful to me than an emerald gemstone; it was the grapefruit-sized nest of a pair of Long-tailed Tits. This nest is famously wondrous throughout the country, being constructed from the lightest wisps of lichen, moss and cobwebs then filled like a pillow with the feather-down that was collected by the parents from hedges and fields. It was so incredibly well camouflaged that if I hadn’t followed the birds around the wood until they dropped down into the brambles I doubt that I would ever have been wise to its existence. This is in fact the first one I have ever seen and I have longed to find one for many years now – and I now realise that due to the hidden location and lichen coating of the nest that this was never going to be an easy find.

Not actually proper tits, Aegithalos caudatus are in their own family with some similar looking cousins named bushtits – the Long-tailed is the only species found in north Eurasia. In England they have gone by many names, in fact the ball-shape of their nest with the little entrance hole in it has inspired many of them; ‘bottle-tom’, ‘oven-bird’ and ‘bum-barrel’ for example – though what inspired the names ‘mumruffin’ and ‘poke-pudding’ is beyond me. They are certainly one of my favourite birds, I never tire of seeing them and I always cast my eye in search of them whenever I hear that distinctive call – ‘schnuurrr’. I love their fairy-like appearance and bouncing, hopping movements; that remarkable combination of colours – rose-blush pink, smoky black and frosty-white – along with the ever-flicking tail renders them most endearing birds, yet I can’t help think how much like a flying spoon they look.

Long-tailed Tits also have a most friendly character; often they will perch or flutter very close to a human observer seemingly oblivious to their presence. They are also friendly to their own kind; rarely do you see one on its own and in winter especially they congregate in sizable flocks as they constantly ramble through woods or hedges. Their social behaviour reaches an apparent ‘friendly’ peak at breeding time when those who have failed to breed join close relatives to assist in raising their brood; a pair may in this way accrue one or even two helpers which greatly increases the chance of survival for the chicks. This is of course all down to the birds wanting to pass on their genes to the next generation – even if it has to be done ‘second-hand’ so to speak.

All-in-all I can find nothing negative whatsoever with this lovely bird, it has an interesting social life and breeding behaviour, they have a unique appearance and construct one of the most precious and beautiful nests in the bird world – long may they prosper!

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