March 2014 - Long-Tailed Tits and Turtle Doves


Long Tailed Tit - Photo By Dominic Gwilliam-Bell

Long Tailed Tits are often seen in Bawburgh gardens in winter, joining other tits to feed on suet cake, sunflower seeds, peanuts and other titbits. They have beautiful plumage being black and white with pink and dusky tones. As their name would suggest they have extremely long tails. They are very mobile and acrobatic, flying with other family members in a group that may contain 10 or more birds, constantly twittering to keep in contact with each other. In winter they roost together to keep warm, occasionally packing into a handy nest box.

In spring, as early as the end of February and earlier than other tits, they start to pair. The nest, often in a thorny hedgerow such as hawthorn, can take up to 3 weeks to complete being an ingenious construction of moss, hair and spiders' webs woven together with a feather lining (reportedly containing on average 1,500 feathers!). It is camouflaged with lichen.  Because of the spiders' webs, it has the ability to expand as the 8 to 12 offspring outgrow the confines of the original nest.

The long Tailed Tit is not an endangered species.

Turtle Doves, however, are on the red list of endangered species, and a bird which it is extremely rare to see around Bawburgh. Dominic Gwilliam-Bell sent me this article which I now share with you.

The Turtle Dove is part of the Columbidae family (Pigeon and Doves), its specific name being Streptopelia turtur, the name being taken from its purring song 'turr turr' . This bird is declining in numbers in our woodland and hedgerows nowadays. This is the dove which is the symbol of love. These birds are slightly bigger than a Blackbird but smaller than the more common Collared Dove, browner in colour on their back with a black and white striped patch on the neck; the tail is a wedge shape, dark in the centre with white borders and tip. They are the only migrating doves breeding in Europe, Asia and North Africa migrating to winter in Central and South Africa.

Laying a clutch of usually two eggs which are incubated for 15-16 days, the adults feed their squab on regurgitated food. Unlike other doves or pigeons which will eat insects, their diet consists solely of cereal and weed seeds, which they forage on the ground for. Nests are usually found in tall uncut hedgerows and the adults will return to known areas year after year, if not disturbed too much.

Because of our changing landscapes, the RSPB is trying to improve the status of this little dove, and hopefully with the help of farmers and land owners and vast areas of hedgerows and woodland, with areas set aside for their food seed plants, they will be able to restore areas back to the Turtle Doves' natural habitat. This loss of habitat also needs to be addressed in the countries they migrate to where a vast number are also killed for food.

The only time Dominic has seen any recently was at High Ash Farm, run by a farmer and local wildlife expert Chris Skinner who thrives on encouraging a wide range of birds and wildlife to his farmland. I have never seen one and look forward to the day.

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