Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Why the Willow Tit?

The Willow Tit – the small bird that thinks it’s a woodpecker. This endearing mimic is the only English tit species to excavate a new nest hole each breeding season, rather than using existing cavities. They don’t quite equal woodpeckers in terms of pecking power, so they prefer to hollow out old rotting stumps, which provide a nice soft alternative.

All this physical effort gives the Willow Tit a rather bull-necked appearance, a feature that separates them from their doppelgangers – Marsh Tits. Even for the most experienced birders, Willow Tits are notoriously difficult to distinguish from Marsh Tits. In fact, ornithologists didn’t realise the two were different species until 1897! Willow Tits found in Britain are also different to those found in Europe, consisting of a distinct sub-species which is unique to the UK.

Sadly, for the most recent half of their known existence, our British Willow Tits have suffered widespread declines. They favour damp young woodland and wet scrub. Conservation writer Ben Macdonald has probably evoked this habitat best:

“Wet scrub is instantly recognisable – a dense ground layer of damp-dependent species: Alder, Elder, Birch, Willow, Buckthorn, Hawthorn and Bramble. Wet scrub defies categorisation – it is, entirely its own habitat. And it is to Willow Tits what a reedbed is to a Bittern – a necessity.”

(Ben’s full article on Willow Tits can be read here)

The loss of this important habitat has meant the population of Willow Tits has declined by 94% since 1970. Most of the south-east of the UK has lost Willow Tits almost completely, but populations in the north-west of the country are clinging on, thanks to natural regeneration of wet scrub on old industrial patches of land.

To give the Willow Tit a helping hand, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will be carrying out work over the next few years that will benefit this species, as part of Back from the Brink; such as installing some unique Willow Tit boxes in the Dearne Valley, to hopefully kick-start their nesting. Hollowed out birch logs will be filled with sawdust to mimic the rotting wood they love so much. Hopefully, this should encourage them to peck their way through and build a nest as they normally would. Fingers crossed!

2 thoughts on “Why the Willow Tit?

  1. I have been feeding the birds for about a year now and recently had some new tits I think they are both March and willow tits, but I am not sure. Above our house is a large forestry commission wood. One of them is very noisy seeming to tell me off is I go too near the feed station but is very bold and does not leave very easierly .

  2. I’m not that much of a onlіne reader to be honest
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