Great tit. Parus major.

Image courtesy of Dan  CC BY-Sa 2.0 License.Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Creative Commons by Snowmanradio. Taken at Kew Gardens-London


The Great Tit, Parus major belongs to the order of birds known as the Passeriformes {perching birds} and the family Paridae within that order.

The genus name of Parus is the Latin word for a Tit,and the specific name of major=great {large}.

In the UK and Ireland it is placed on the Green list of conservation concern {no current concerns}. The UK population is estimated at two point five million territories {summer}. In Europe they are regarded as being secure with a total European population of between thirty six and seventy six million pairs . {source BTO}.

They occur throughout Europe, Asia and north west Africa. It is a bird of woodland,forest,towns and Mangrove.

The Gaelic name for the bird is Currac-baintighearna, the Welsh name is Titw Mawr and the Irish name Meantan Mor.

What are birds of the family Paridae.?---- 

 The Tits,Chickadees and Titmice make up this genus of small passerine birds. Most were formerly placed in the genus Parus. Members of this family are mainly stocky,small woodland species with short,stout bills. Some have crests. they are very active and acrobatic birds which feed on a diet of seeds,nuts and invertebrates.

 Many species have adapted to sharing human habitation and are regularly seen at bird feeders.Species such as the Tufted titmouse are restricted to North America. The birds are very territorial during the breeding season. They are very adaptable,active and noisy social birds outside the breeding season.

 In the UK we have many species of Tit { In America they are always referred to as Titmouse.} Including The Blue tit. Long -tailed tit, Crested tit Bearded tit, Coal tit, Marsh tit and Willow tit.Here we review the largest of the Tit family,the Great tit, Parus major and as always we commence with a description of the subject under review.



Another member of the Paridae The Tufted titmouse is restricted to North America.

Image courtesy of Ken Thomas. Ken thomas us.website.

Great tit.

Image courtesy of Richard Crossley ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.

Description of the Great Tit.

If this bird was a rare species it would certainly rank high on the birders list. It is a beautiful which has the crown of the head to below the eye and backwards to the nape a glossy black with a bluish sheen. The mantle and upper back are an olive green ,which shades deeply into ash grey on the lower back and upper tail coverts. The tail has inner webs greyish black and the outer webs a deep ash grey,excepting the outermost feather which has the web and tip white,the next feathers also tipped white.

 The wing coverts are a bluish grey,the outer ones broadly tipped with white. The primary feathers are a smoky brown,the basal half of the outer webs edged with pearl grey and the terminal half white. The secondary feathers are greyish brown,darker towards the shaft and paler towards the margins,the outer webs with broad pale edges

.The cheeks,ear coverts and sometimes a small spot on the nape are snow white. A belt circles the neck,the chin and throat and fore-chest and an irregular streak down the centre of the breast to the vent is black. the remainder of the body below is sulphur yellow. The under tail coverts white,varied with black,the tail feathers below ash grey,the outer feathers varied as above with white. The bill is shining black the feet are a dark leaden grey.The iris is deep brown.

 The female is slightly duller than the male and the stripe below a little narrower,however,they are difficult to tell apart in the field. The broad black chest stripe of the male is one of the ways it attracts a mate,the more defined and sharper in colour ,the more alluring he is to the females.

 They are five and a half inches long {14 cm},and weigh 16-21 grams. The young birds are also duller with the cheeks showing a more yellow tint.


Two females.

Image courtesy of Shirley Clarke  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

General and historical information.

The Great Tit, once more commonly referred to as the Ox- eye tit is met with in woods ,plantations,shrubberies,orchards and gardens,in all such places they are relatively common. it may be encountered at all times of the year as it seeks out food. The call note of the Great Tit much resembles that of the Chaffinch a sharp hurried 'chick chick chick'. that has a metallic ring to it,

 The song varies a great deal the most common one heard is likened to the sound made by a bicycle pump being used to blow up a tyre. This song can be heard throughout the year. In the breeding season this is combined with other variations which are subtle in their differences.Indeed the old name of 'Ox-eye' alludes to its note that past naturalists said sounded like Ox-eye,Ox-eye Ox-eye [ a low and high note in succession}. The song begins as early as March and will continue until June. It may be heard at other times of the year but then it is much less intense. {see Video below to hear the song}.


 More than two or three of this species are seldom seen together,nor does it associate much with its generic relatives. The flight of the Great Tit is usually short from tree to tree,performed by a repeated flutter of the wings. Longer flights tend to be undulating in nature. the food consists principally of insects,small caterpillars hidden among the foliage and seeds,which latter, if hard, it holds in its bill and knocks it against a tree until it breaks. It also removes moss from trees,to pry for insects beneath. It will also take items such as peas from the garden and it will help itself to the cream on top of milk that are left in bottles on the doorstep by pecking through the bottle top.

 It sometimes seeks food on the ground but more often in trees and shrubs,where it shows remarkable agility of its race. It may also be encountered hanging under the eaves of a thatched cottage,from which it tugs at the straws in search of concealed insects. The sprightly habits of this bird at once attract attention.

 Adams in his book 'The Smaller British Birds' ,1894, states on the subject----

" There he is ,among the boughs of yonder old oak,looking for some decayed part into which he can thrust his bill,and extract delicious morsels, in the shape of wood lice and spiders,grubs and larva,and such like dainty fare. he visits the gardens and orchards,when the buds are on the trees,and pecks off a great many,but then they are mostly rotten at the core. he knows there is a grub inside each,which will prevent it from coming to perfection, but it is in the woods that he spends the greater part of his time"

Great Tit in captivity.

In the days before it became illegal to keep wild birds {with a few licen" If required for the aviary it is much better to get the birds from the nest and rear them by hand,as they may then become more sociable, but if taken when adult they are very apt to become very dangerous,and will even attack birds much larger than themselves,and,by repeated blows of their sharp little beaks,break open their victim's head and eat the brains. if however, a separate cage or,better still, a small aviary is available, Titmice will amply repay the trouble of keeping them,being very handsome,and especially lively and interesting"sed exceptions} it was a popular pastime. Bird-catchers made a good living by procuring the birds by any means,usually by nets, ans selling them to bird keepers and to the markets as a food item. The following few paragraphs allude to those times.
 It seems that this species had a reputation not to be trifled with among bird keepers. I acquired the following notes from Bird keepers records made in the 1800's. One writer gives the following advise.
 Another eminent bird keeper of that time seems to confirm the above opinion of this species. he made the following observations -
 " A Great tit turned into an aviary with other birds is about as safe a companion for the latter,as a good healthy Brown Rat would be, charming and useful when free, he is repulsive in captivity on account of his murderous intentions."

Butler reveals that in the may of 1896, " I tried hand rearing Ox-eyes,there were four of them,which had formed part of the family hatched in a hollow plum tree. I found them quarrelsome above all nestlings,clamorous and voracious . Their call for food was 'chur chur chur',. They lived long enough to fly and were becoming quite interesting when suddenly they all died off within two days,having probably swallowed some wadding from their bed,in their greediness after food dropped upon it"

Great tit feeding from the hand.

Image courtesy of Karakel Public domain.

Breeding nest and Eggs.

The nest is always placed in some cavity the favourite being some hole in a tree,wall or other such situations. The nest seems to be of two types. In more open situations they tend to be domed and constructed with moss etc, the other type being just a concave cup at the bottom of the hole selected by the birds for their nursery. This type consists of a thick foundation of dried grass or moss,with an upper layer of hair,wool or feathers.They readily take to nest boxes.

Eggs of the Great Tit in a museum in Germany.

Image courtesy of Klaus Rassinger and Gerhard Cammerer CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
Museum Wiesbaden,  Germany

They tend to be earlier breeders than their smaller cousins,and they well begin to breed as early as March in the warmer regions,but nests have been encountered as late as June.The female will deposit seven to nine eggs,which have a white background spotted with orangey red. The hen sits closely upon them and the male keeps watch a little distance away. Both birds are courageous in defence of their nest and young. The male will shriek loud cries of anger and distress while the sitting female will hiss at intruders.

 The eggs are incubated for 13-15 days by the female and they are ready to leave the nest in a further 18-21 days.

Chicks in nest.

Image courtesy of Arstein Ronning CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Great tit fledgling.

Image Public domain courtesy of Musp.

UK conservation status 2021

UK  Green list-No current concerns.

Europe-Species of Least concern. 

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