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Bearded Tit. Panurus biarmicus

Bearded tits belong to the family Timaliidae of the Order Passeriformes { perching birds}, and placed in the genus Panurus with the specific name of biarmicus. It was formerly known by the Latin name of Calamophilus biarmicus {calamos from the Greek Kalamos meaning reed} The bird had many local names such as reed pheasant and bearded titmouse. Its current genus name derives from the Greek panu indicating exceedingly + oura tail, referring to the length of the birds tail.

The bearded tit is an elegant, beautifully marked, native, small bird which is an inhabitant of large tracts of reeds in various situations both of Europe and Asia. In this country during the 18th century, they were recorded from the fen districts of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire where it was not uncommon and also from the Essex marshes and those of Sussex, bordering the sea, also in Gloucestershire, Lancashire and Cornwall. It was also, at that time, reported to have been seen near Paisley in Scotland. 

Two males and a female in winter

Photograph courtesy of Thermos CC BY-SA 3.0 License

Description of the bearded tit.

It is a small species, however, because of the thickness of its plumage and the length of its tail it appears to be the size of a robin. they are about 12cm long with a wingspan of 17cm and weigh 15g. The bill is delicate and small, somewhat in form like those of the tit family of the genus Parus, but much weaker and more curved, and the upper mandible is curved and pointed.

Between the yellow eyes is a tuft of pendant pointed feathers on each side forming forming a prominent moustache, which is black in the male,and of the same colour as the surrounding plumage in the female.  The head, neck and breast of the male is a beautiful, pure bluish grey, the latter softly tinted with purplish hue. The chin is black and the throat very pale ash grey almost white. The flanks are yellowish brown. The black tail a very rich yellowish brown, inclining to orange, forming a contrast with grey neck. 

From a distance the plumage is predominantly rufous or tawny. the male and female {despite her much duller plumage} have black and white bars on the wings and very rufous tail. the legs and feet are black 

Bearded tit -female

Photograph courtesy of Thermos { CC BY-SA 3.0 License}

Differs widely from other British tits

It differs widely from the other species of British tits that belong to the genus Parus. They differ in the structure of their digestive organs and stomach {gizzard} being much more muscular than those birds and the oesophagus or gullet, containing a considerable enlargement or crop as in the finches.

Its manners and habits also its form, and the nature and disposition of its plumage and colours are also at odds with the Parus group. Its mode of progression when on the ground is a peculiar shuffling walk, that of the Parus group is by successive hops. In all cases of the Parus group {ie, blue tit, great tit, willow tit, marsh tit, coal tit,long tailed tit} the sexes are very similar in appearance. In the bearded tit the females plumage is duller, not as vibrant as that of the male.

 

Nest and eggs

Their haunts and diet also differ. The nest is composed on the outside of dead leaves of reed and sedge, intermixed with a few pieces of grass, and invariably lines with the top of a reed, somewhat in the manner of the nest constructed by the reed warbler, but not so compact in the interior.

It is generally placed in a tuft of coarse grass or rushes near the ground, or on the margins of a dike in the fen. It may sometimes be located among reeds that have broken down, but never suspended among the stems of the reeds in which it lives. the eggs vary in number from 4-8 which are incubated for 10-14 days by both parents. The chicks are born naked and blind. Within 12-13 days they are ready to fledge. The young are fed on invertebrates. The adult diet consists of invertebrates during the summer and seeds during the winter.

 

Male in breeding plumage

Photograph courtesy of Martin Mecnarowski http://www.photmecan.eu/

Conservation issues { source BTO}

Bearded tits have been on the Amber list of Conservation Concern since 1996. This because of declines of between 25-50% in population /distribution since that period. 

In Europe they are not a species of concern.

In Britain there is an estimated 596 pairs in summer. They occur at the Leighton Moss reserve in north Lancashire. 

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