independent

Monday 25 March 2019

Can you tell a male Blue Tit from a female?

The Blue Tit is a very common garden bird.
The Blue Tit is a very common garden bird.

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

I don't know how to tell a male Blue Tit from a female Blue Tit. I remember reading that the female does most of the brooding or sitting on their clutch of eggs while they hatch, and that her partner feeds her as she broods.

In theory, that information should allow closer examination of the plumage of the two sexes but in practice opportunities to observe a pair interacting in such a way in the wild are pretty few and far between.

On a recent occasion I would have liked to have been able to tell the genders of these common garden birds apart.

The occasion in question was a recent fine and sunny but cold winter day. I was working in the garden, kneeling on the ground manually pulling out the Ivy that keeps invading the bottoms of our hedges when a mild commotion in the treeline caught my attention. Four Blue Tits were having a bit of a difference as they fluttered around one of the nest boxes strapped to the trunk of an Ash tree.

It seemed reasonable to conclude that a hint spring was in the air and that the birds were either starting to prospect for nest sites or to renovate a nest used the previous year. The genders of the foursome were not as obvious. Were they two couples looking to stake a claim on a home or were they four males competing with each other for a territory?

Male Blue Tits are territorial during the breeding season; they are polygamous and mate with several females. These females all nest within the male's territory and he feeds them and their chicks.

I turned to Google for help. As expected, up came an immediate answer raising my expectation of a definitive answer. It was not to be: 'Although male Blue Tits are usually brighter in colour than the females, this difference is often not apparent in the field'. That proved to be of no help at all as all four of the squabbling tits appeared equally coloured in the weak winter light.

I gave up and went back to pulling out Ivy albeit in the full knowledge that all I was doing was cosmetically keeping the pervasive creeper at bay by pruning it.

In the long run, Ivy will win out and invade the hedges and Blue Tits of both genders will continue to indulge in their daily social and procreative squabbles.

New Ross Standard

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