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Long-tailed tits tapping at windows

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 30 Mar 2010 at 12:32 PM

I had an interesting email from my father the other day. He said, ‘For the past few days flocks of long-tailed tits have been coming to the fat balls (more primly known as ‘suet treats’) hanging in our garden. From time to time one or two will leave the group and start tapping on the windows, upsetting the cat no end. Why do you think they do this? My theory is that they catch sight of their reflection in the glass and think it's another tit, but it's never happened in past years. But then again, there are far more LTTs this year than before, perhaps because we've never had fat balls (or suet treats) before.’

 

As luck would have it, I went to visit him a few days later and, as we sat with our tea, we watched the long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) performing just as he had described. Two would land on the washing line outside the window and take it in turns to fly the few feet from there to the window frame, where they clung on and tapped repeatedly at the glass. Vexingly, I had forgotten my camera and wasn’t able to photograph them (I did find this clip, which very much like the scene we watched), but it was fascinating to observe and a lovely opportunity to see these attractive little birds up close.

When I first saw his message, a number of explanations occurred to me. The first was that the birds were looking for spiders or for small insects caught in the webs. The second was that they were seeing their reflections and interpreting them as another long-tailed tit invading their territory. The third was that they were looking for spiders’ webs to take away for use in the construction of their extraordinary nests.

 

This is an unfinished long-tailed tit's nest that was found amonst reeds last April. For some reason, it had been abandoned part way through the construction.

 

On actually seeing them doing it, it does look as if they are pecking at their reflections and not looking for insects or spiders’ webs. Once the birds have finished mating, I expect they will stop doing it. Other birds will tap at windows in spring too and territorial robins are especially known for it.

 

I’m guessing that the phenomena was new to my father partly because their numbers have increased in recent years, due to mild weather, and also because they enjoy fat balls (or ‘suet treats’).


Comments

pushkin said:

What an extraordinary nest for such a small bird.  Very interesting.

on 30 Mar 2010 at 01:58 PM

richardpeeej said:

Perhaps they are tapping at the window because

a)they are thanking you for their treats :-)

b)their treats are running low and they need a refill

I think most likely as you say Miranda they think it is another bird invading their territory. Interesting article.

Richard

on 30 Mar 2010 at 04:58 PM

Susiq said:

Good blog Miranda - what a shame you didn't have your camera as you usually take fantastic pics. I would love to catch sight of flocks of them.

on 31 Mar 2010 at 02:03 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks for the comments, all. Pushkin, you should see the finished nest, all covered in lichen and lined inside with hundreds of feathers; they're amazing.

I wonder if birds will ever get used to seeing their reflections, Richard, and stop attacking windows?

Thanks, Susiq, it was so annoying to have left my camera behind!

on 01 Apr 2010 at 03:29 PM