British Garden Birds Site Map Album Info Quiz Shop Links About Visit us on facebook

Coal Tit

Coal Tit
Both sexes: Olive-grey upperparts, black crown and bib, buff underneath. White cheeks and patch on the nape.

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.

Coal Tit
Coal Tit

Scientific Name Periparus ater
Length 11.5 cm  (4½")
Wing Span 17-21 cm  (7-8")
Weight 8-10 g  (¼-½ oz)
Breeding Pairs 610000
Present All Year
Status Green

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


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


© Jean Roché,
Alarm Call

© Jean Roché,


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.


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


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.


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.