Great tit

Parus major

SUBFAMILY

Parinae

TAXONOMY

Parus major Linnaeus, 1758. Up to 31 subspecies recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Mésange charbonnière; German: Kohlmeise; Spanish: Carbonero Común.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

5.5 in (14 cm); 0.5-0.8 oz (14-22 g), males typically slightly larger than female; very variable species with plumage characterized by black crown, throat, and vertical breast stripe; white cheeks; green back; blue wings, rump, and tail; and yellow breast.

DISTRIBUTION

The great tit is possibly the most widespread of all the parids; up to 31 subspecies have been identified across Eurasia and into Southeast Asia and northern China.

HABITAT

Occurs in a very wide range of different woodland types, but generally favors lowland broad-leaved woodlands, especially those with good shrub growth. Dislikes pure conifer forests. Also found in open woodland habitats, including parks, gardens, cemeteries, and hedges.

BEHAVIOR

Resident throughout much of its range, but shows seasonal altitudinal migration in some mountain areas and local migration in others. Irruptive movements can occur in years with good breeding success and/or poor beech Fagus mast crop. Occasionally territorial throughout year, but may join hierarchically-organized, mixed-species flocks outside of breeding season. Song frequent, simple, and variable, with each male having several repertoires.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Forages on all parts of trees and shrubs, but shows preference for foraging among leaves. However, foraging behavior highly adaptable and shows remarkable learning ability, including the use of tools (pine needles used to extract insects from holes). Does not store food. Diet comprises an extremely wide variety of invertebrates, seeds, nuts, and fruits.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Nests in pre-existing tree-cavities, walls, burrows, and nest-boxes. Egg-laying starts in February in southern populations and as late as May in the north. Frequently lays two clutches per year, rarely three. Clutch size highly variable: three to 18 eggs laid. Incubation is by female alone and takes 12-15 days, fledging in 16-22 days.

CONSERVATION STATUS

A very common species, but some subspecies may have relatively small populations. In Europe alone, the estimated population is between 41 and 180 million pairs.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

No commercial significance, but of contemporary cultural significance in some areas, especially Europe, where closely associated with humans. ♦

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