Usually you hear them first. A soft twittering of many tiny voices.
Those who have learned to recognise the sound then scan the bare winter treetops for an ever-moving tribe of little lollipop-shaped birds.
All feeding on the move and all heading in the same diection, treetop to treetop .
Long tailed tit flocks are one of winter’s iconic sights and sounds, though totally unpredictable as all nomads are. They are curiosities of the bird world, famously the only member of the tit tribe which are not tits at all.
They are, in fact, the only European members of a quite separate family of birds.
In summer, when the flocks break up into territorial pairs, they create spherical nests which are nothing short of a work of art, lined inside with copious amounts of collected feathers, camouflaged on the outside with lichen, and all knitted together with spider silk! Furthermore, no matter how hard you stare, it seems impossible to tell what tiny food items they are finding on winter’s bare swaying twigs.
Aphid eggs, moth eggs and cocoons, and a wide menu of similar microscopic fare will fall to those tiny bead eyes and that stubby wee bill.
When I was a feral laddie back in the 1950s and ’60s, long tailed tits were still a wild and evasive species. They are one of many new species to discover the bounty of the peanut feeder and fat ball.
Even if they do use your feeders, you may not realise unless you check often.
Only a handful of times a day will their route return to your feeders. Suddenly, where there were none, there are half a dozen or more on every feeder, all sticky-out tails and excited chatter.
Never is the price of a few feeders and fat balls so richly rewarding to those lucky enough to witness the spectacle!
By George Hogg, Hogg Estate Services, Wildlife Management