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Coal tits struggling after poor seed year – Appearing in gardens

13/12/2012 11:31:09
birds/birds_2011_june/coal_tit_crop_wx

Tree seed crops have been poor this year, leaving many seed-eating birds with little natural food on offer in the wider countryside. Photo copyright Wildlife Extra

Tough times for ‘Old King Coal'?
December 2012. New results from the British Trust for Ornithology's Garden BirdWatch suggest that the Coal Tit is one of a number of species struggling to find food this winter. Through its network of 14,000 ‘citizen scientists', the charity has charted a substantial upsurge in garden use, with Coal Tits turning to feeders in huge numbers.

Bad year for tree seeds
It appears that tree seed crops have been poor this year, leaving many seed-eating birds with little natural food on offer in the wider countryside. As a consequence, many species have been turning to bird table fare. Perhaps the most noticeable of these arrivals has been the Coal Tit, a species usually recorded in roughly half of gardens during November and early December, but this year nearly three-quarters of gardens are being visited.

In addition to the patchiness of natural seed crops, the recent wet weather has also proved problematic for Coal Tits. The seed cones of conifers only open under dry conditions and damp weather leaves them firmly closed; Coal Tits have to then find food elsewhere and we have seen a resulting increase in the use of garden feeders. Coal Tits have visited more gardens in the last few weeks than during the same period in any of the 17 years over which the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey has been running.

Coal tits have been much more common in gardens than usual, as they have had a poor year for wild seeds.

Coal tits have been much more common in gardens than usual, as they have had a poor year for wild seeds.

Help the survey
This December, the BTO wants more birdwatchers to help chart the influx of ‘Old King Coal' into gardens. Anyone who watches garden birds can get involved with the charity's Garden BirdWatch project, which is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. Not only is the survey great fun but simple observations made by participants help to protect bird populations.

Coal Tits bring plenty of activity into gardens, as they dash restlessly to and from seed feeders. During autumn they spend much of their time storing food to ensure that they have plentiful supplies for the winter ahead. Research shows that they can remember such hiding places for around four weeks, so look out for individuals retrieving these morsels in the depths of winter.

Other birds in gardens
Dr Tim Harrison, of the BTO Garden Ecology Team, commented: "Off the back of a difficult breeding season, the rain over the past few weeks has hampered Coal Tits yet further, drawing them into gardens in search of food. They will often arrive in a crowd - look out for them travelling with Blue and Great Tits, and perhaps also with Long-tailed Tits and even Goldcrests."

He added: "Other wonderful birds, including Goldfinch, Bullfinch and Nuthatch, are also amazing householders in unusually high numbers at present. With many natural foods seeming to be scarce, this winter is set to be one of the most exciting ever for garden bird lovers. Make your sightings count by getting involved in BTO Garden BirdWatch."

For a free Garden BirdWatch enquiry pack, email gbw@bto.org, telephone 01842-750050, or write to Garden BirdWatch, British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

Coal Tits

A pair of Coal Tits nested in an old nest box I put on the back of a shed in my Mothers garden in Lakenheath, Suffolk. They fledged young, but I'm not sure how many, as I wasn't there at the time they fledged. Theres a couple still come to the feeders in the garden quite often.
Also, theres a couple of Coal Tits coming to the feeders all the time, at my stepdaughter's garden in Skeyton, Norfolk.

Posted by: Mali Halls | 14 Dec 2012 13:55:01

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