Tits

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Coal Tit (Periparus ater). Photo: Ian Preston – Flickr

This small tit is readily told apart from other members of its family by the distinctive white stripe, which runs through the centre of the crown. Frequently found near conifers, it is also a regular visitor to garden feeders.

The call of this species is quite distinctive: it is a relatively high-pitched, rapid trisyllabic “tsee-uh-ee“.

There is, however, one species which has a very similar call – the Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus). This species is a Siberian vagrant which finds its way to Western Europe in small numbers every autumn. Don’t worry though – you won’t have to worry too much about crossing paths with one of these, but its something to keep in mind, just in case. We haven’t yet recorded this species in Ireland, but we are very hopeful that we will get the chance this Autumn. For now, here is a poor recording Seán made in Catalunya of an autumnal vagrant, near Barcelona:

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus). Photo: Frank Vassen – Flickr

As you can see, they really are very similar sounding, but look nothing alike. The chances of you hearing a Yellow-browed Warbler in Ireland are very slim. They usually turn up on the southern and western coasts in autumn in small numbers, with some good years with 100 or more reported. If faced with a dilemma, there are some subtle differences to help you out:

  • Coal Tit sounds, on average, slightly lower-pitched.
  • Yellow-browed Warbler typically rises more on the third, and final syllable. This is visible in the above sonograms: Coal Tit has an incomplete V-shape, with the second half (third syllable) of the V only half-there. Yellow-browed Warbler has a more complete V-shape.
  • Yellow-browed Warbler typically calls incessantly in rapid, consistent bursts. Coal Tit usually varies its vocalisations, often emitting calls with longer, more irregular spacing.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). Photo: Ian Preston – Flickr

One of our most beautiful residents, the Blue Tit is ubiquitous, and a regular garden-visitor.

By far the most recognisable vocalisation of this tit is its song, which easily separates it from other species and is typified by a series of high-pitched, drawn-out notes, followed by a rapid thrill. In contrast to the sometimes similar sounding Great Tit, Blue Tit sounds pure and untainted:

Just like its song, the calls of the species are similarly pure-sounding. We haven’t yet obtained any recordings of this vocalisation but we’re working on it.


Great Tit (Parus major)

Great Tit (Parus major). Photo: Caroline Legg – Flickr

The Great Tit, is perhaps one of the greatest vocal tricksters we have. Whilst it does have some predictable vocalisations, it can and does mimic, and also has a huge repertoire of vocalisations of its own.

Let’s keep things simple and start with the typical “teacher-teacher” song of the species:

A harsh series of scolding-type notes are often given. Blue Tits also do this, but Great Tit sounds louder and harsher. Listen below for an example of these scolding notes, in this case with mimicry of the call of Dunnock (Prunella modularis) before each series (!):

Another very common vocalisation is the Chaffinch-like “pink“, heard below, before a series of scolding calls:

Listen below for a mixture of calls and another song variant. One consistent set of features of this species is the loudness, harshness and often metallic-quality to the vocals:


Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Photo: Amy Felce – Flickr

This species is unmistakable, with its long tail, and subtle white and pink tones. Often seen travelling in vocal groups, it is easily recognised by its calls.

The most typical vocalisation is a rapid, wren-like thrill: “pee-urrrrt“. This is often accompanied by harsh, brief “pit” or “chip” calls. Upon seeing a predator this species regularly alarms ( a fast series of descending “tsee tseee-tu-tu-tu-tuuu” notes), and as a result this vocalisation is extremely useful for detecting overflying raptors! The following recording contains all of the above vocalisations. Pay particular attention to 12/13 seconds in, and you will hear the very useful-to-know alarm-call.


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