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Coal Tit

Coal Tit Coal Tit Both Sexes
Olive-grey upperparts, black crown and bib, buff underneath. White cheeks and patch on the nape.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Periparus ater
Length: 11.5 cm  (4½")
Wing Span: 17-21 cm  (7-8")
Weight: 8-10 g  (¼-½ oz)  
Breeding Pairs: 610 000
Present: All Year
Status: Green

Description

The Coal Tit is a small tit, in fact the smallest European tit, and could be confused with the almost indistinguishable Marsh Tit and Willow Tit if it was not for the white patch on the nape. While it behaves like a Blue Tit, there is no blue in its plumage.

The upperparts are a olive-grey, the underparts buff coloured. The crown and large bib are black, while the cheeks and nape are white. There are also two white wing bars on each wing - this feature separates it from the Marsh and Willow Tits if the nape is not visible. The legs are blue-grey.

Juveniles are browner above, and the underparts, cheeks, nape and wing bars are more yellow.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

The high pitch song of the Coal Tit, a repetitive "pee-chew", is similar to that of the Great Tits but faster.

Feeding

Insects, beech mast and conifer seeds are among the Coal Tit's natural diet.

In the garden, they prefer black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts and occasionally suet.

When food is plentiful they hoard it by hiding it all over the place so that they food for later when times are harder. Unfortunately, the Coal Tit's memory is not as great as its ingenuity in hiding places and you will often find forgotten sunflower seeds germinating in the most unlikely places!

Great Tits can sometimes be seen watching a Coal Tit stashing away its seed and then go and raid it.

Nesting

Coal Tits will nest in hollows in trees or in mouse holes. The nest is similar to that of the Blue Tit (i.e. made from moss, wool, dead leaves and spiders' webs) except that it is moss-lined.

The Coal Tit's small (15 mm by 12 mm) eggs are smooth and glossy, and white with reddish-brown speckles. The female incubates the eggs by herself. After the young hatch, they are fed by both parents.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
mid-April 1-2 7-12 14-16 16-19

Movements

Coal Tits are resident and mainly sedentary, though a few Continental birds do winter here, especially in the south east.

In the winter, Coal Tits often join flocks of mixed Tits in woodlands.

Conservation

Harsh winters and poor seed crops can lead to the deaths of many of these small birds, but recent warmer winters and increased garden feeding have helped the population to increase slightly.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

The chart above shows the maximum number of Coal Tits visiting the garden at any one time.

We had not seen Coal Tits visiting the garden before 1998, though this may be through not noticing the birds dashing to the feeders, snatching a seed or nut, then dashing away to either eat it or add it to its hoard.

In the second week of May (1999) the adult Coal Tits, which had nested in a neighbouring garden, fed two fledglings. The Coal Tits had their first brood at least 2-3 weeks before the Blue Tits and Great Tits.

The number of birds visiting during the winter months is often dependent on how good the beech mast crop is that year - winter 2003 was a particularly bad year for beech mast.


Last revision: 21 Feb 2015
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2017.
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