Aegithalos caudatuslong-tailed tit

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Geographic Range

Aegithalos caudatus, or the long-tailed tit, is found over a wide range. It is native to all of Europe, including Great Britain, with the exception of the northernmost areas. The range extends from Europe across Asia as far east as China and Japan. Across its range, this species is known by 2 other common names: European tit and alpine tit. ("RSPB", 2008; Akatsuka, 2006)

Habitat

Found mostly in deciduous forests, hedges, scrub, and increasingly in gardens, Aegithalos caudatus is uncommon to rare in coniferous or mixed forests. Elevational limits and the northern extent of the range are limited by availability of preferred habitat and severity of winter. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004; "RSPB", 2008; Jannson and Angelstam, 1999)

Physical Description

Long-tailed tits are small and delicate looking. They are mostly easily distinguished from other tits by their long tail, which doubles the length of the body. They have rounded bodies and heads with black and white plumage tinged with dusky pink. The beak is tiny and triangular. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004; "RSPB", 2008; Akatsuka, 2006)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    7 to 9 g
    0.25 to 0.32 oz
  • Average length
    14 cm
    5.51 in
  • Range wingspan
    16 to 19 cm
    6.30 to 7.48 in

Reproduction

Groups of long-tailed tits split into pairs and begin building nests in early spring. As the nesting season continues, parents are often joined in provisioning their young by close relatives that have lost their broods to predation. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004; Hatchwell, et al., 1999a)

Long-tailed tits begin nest building in late February or early March. Nests are elaborate spheres constructed with moss, hair, lichens, spiderwebs, and feathers. From 6 to 15 unpatterned eggs with reddish spots are laid, with an average of 8 to 12. Young hatch in 13 to 17 days and fledge from 14 to 18 days after that. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004; McGowan, et al., 2004)

  • Breeding interval
    One brood is raised each year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding begins in late February and early March.
  • Range eggs per season
    6 to 15
  • Average eggs per season
    8-12
  • Range time to hatching
    13 to 17 days
  • Range fledging age
    14 to 18 days

Long-tailed tits have relatively large broods which are raised by both parents often with the help of other members of the family group. Only the female parent incubates the eggs while the male provisions her with food. Before laying the eggs, an elaborate nest is built of moss, held together with spiderwebs and hair, disguised with lichens, and lined with up to 1500 feathers. Parents and relatives all help to feed hatchlings. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004; Hatchwell, et al., 1999a; Hatchwell, et al., 1999b; McGowan, et al., 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

Lifespan/Longevity

Long-tailed tits live short lives of only 2 to 3 years. Immature birds begin molting into adult plumage very soon after fledging.

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 3 years

Behavior

Long-tailed tits travel and forage in flocks of around 20, they travel quickly through the trees and hedges acrobatically gleaning tiny insects from twigs. They are highly active and noisy. During the winter they roost communally to conserve heat, though they still have a high winter mortality rate. Dominance relationships in the flock influence whether birds get interior spots in communal roosts, thus saving more energy. Flocks initially split into breeding pairs in the spring to raise young, but failed pairs often join others to help provide for young. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004; "RSPB", 2008; Hatchwell, et al., 1999a)

Home Range

Home range size in long-tailed tits is not known.

Communication and Perception

Loose groups of long-tailed tits are constantly making contact calls as they move through the woods. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004)

Food Habits

Long-tailed tits are insectivores. They move through the scrubs and trees gleaning tiny insects from the foliage. They have been increasingly seen visiting seed feeders in the fall and winter. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004; "RSPB", 2008; Tomas, 2002)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

Predation

Nests suffer high predation rates from jays and crows (Corvidae). Nests not subject to predation have a 97% survival rate. Adults suffer predation from small hawks. They are cryptically colored and maintain a high level of vigilance by living in small flocks. (Hatchwell, et al., 1999b; McGowan, et al., 2004)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Long-tailed tits are important predators of small spiders, aphids, and other small insects. They are prey for predatory birds, such as crows and jays and small raptors. They are hosts to a number of common bird parasites, such as bird lice.

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Long-tailed tits are acrobatic birds that are occasionally enjoyed at feeders. ("Garden BirdWatch", 2004)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of long-tailed tits on humans.

Conservation Status

Although populations fluctuate and are rare in some areas, long-tailed tits have a large global range and are considered stable.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kyle Waite (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec R. Lindsay (editor, instructor), Northern Michigan University.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

2004. "Garden BirdWatch" (On-line). Accessed April 16, 2008 at http://www.bto.org/gbw/Species/BIRDS_LOTTI.htm.

2008. "RSPB" (On-line). Accessed April 16, 2008 at http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/l/longtailedtit/index.asp.

Akatsuka, T. 2006. Morphological development in young long-tailed tits. Ornithol Sci, 5: 231-235.

Hatchwell, B., M. Fowlie, D. Ross, A. Russel. 1999. Incubation Behavior of Long-tailed Tits: Why do Males Provision Incubating Females?. The Condor, 101: 681-686.

Hatchwell, B., A. Russel, M. Fowlie, D. Ross. 1999. Reproductive Success and Nest-Site Selection in a Cooperative Breeder: Effect of Experience and a Direct Benefit of Helping. The Auk, 116(2): 355-363.

Jannson, G., P. Angelstam. 1999. Threshold levels of habitat composition for the presence of the long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) in a boreal landscape. Landscape Ecology, 14: 283-290.

Maccoll, A., B. Hatchwell. 2004. Determinants of lifetime fitness in a cooperative breeder, the long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus. Journal of Animal Ecology, 73: 1137-1148.

McGowan, A., S. Sharp, B. Hatchwell. 2004. The structure and function of nests of Long-Tailed Tits Aegithalos caudatus. Functional Ecology, 18: 578-583.

Tomas, D. 2002. "The Birds of Europe" (On-line). Accessed April 16, 2008 at http://sunny1446.free.fr/affiche_en.php?lettre=L&index=17.