Saturday, 3 November 2012

Coals Cache and Carry

Coal Tits are great competitors: the smallest of the tit family, they have to wait their turn when Great and Blue Tits are about, for food and for nesting space.  Traditionally they are associated with conifer plantations and this is still true, and has enhanced their distribution, though mixed woodland and large gardens are also to their liking.  They are doing well right now, rising through the ranks in the Garden Bird Survey, up three places last winter to 7th position, as Blue and Great Tits remain static at third and fifth position, respectively. ( see the latest results in Wings magazine, delivered to BirdWatch Ireland members over the next week or so.)

Given their small stature, its not surprising that given an opportunity, they will put away or hide a food store for the near future.  Right now they are cashing in and caching, autumn bounty.  This includes the offering on peanut and seed feeders.  I recently deployed a window feeder on the patio door, a great amusement for us all at breakfast time, and a chance to get real close up looks at our common garden bird visitors.  Birds fly to the feeder from 30 or 40 feet away, landing directly on the mesh feeder, thankfully, there's no evidence of any mis-timed flights or landings..

Coal Tit (c. O.O'Sullivan)

There have been some big migratory movements of Coal Tits recorded  in late September and early October this year, at the migration watch points around our south and west coasts: 70 at Cape Clear Island, Co Cork, 29th September; 100 at Dunquin, west Kerry, 5th October and 70 at Inishmore, Aran Islands, Co Galway, 6th October.( see

Coal Tits have a number of relatively distinct races, including an Irish race, hibernicus, a British race and a Continental race, so interest and speculation as to the precise racial identity of these island 'fall' birds is high.. They could reflect an autumn movement or dispersal of relatively local birds, known to be in high numbers, or perhaps an arrival of Continental birds.. Our hibernicus birds have olive tones to the back and an off white or yellowish tinge to the cheeks , and ruddy underparts.  The British race is whiter in the cheeks and plainer on the underparts, though the back has some olive tones.  The continental race is more cold grey on the back and has white cheeks and plain underparts.. All fairly subtle and a bird in the hand is the best way to racially identify birds.  However, the window feeders afford such wonderful, close up views, you may well be able to racially identify your Coal Tits. 

Coal & Great Tit share a feeder (c. OOS)

A bird was observed and photographed at the end of March 2011, on a window feeder in Clane, Co Kildare, by Stephen Lawlor that showed the characteristics of the Continental race.. the pix show a fairly cold, grey backed bird with plain underparts and white cheeks.. he invited bird ringers to come and confirm his identification in the hand by trapping the visitor to his window feeder: (see the pix on  and enter Coal Tit in the search option) 

Keep on checking your Coal Tits, the best way to observe them is by deploying a window feeder adaptor, and hanging a mesh feeder laden with peanuts.. a great incentive to keep the windows clean and polished!

Coal Tit (c. OOS)

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