They feed usually in scrub and in the understorey layer and often amongst dead wood. In summer the diet consists largely of invertebrates. In winter they take seeds and sometimes use feeders.
Willow tit is the only UK Tit species to excavate a new nest hole each breeding season, the work normally carried out by the female. The nest is positioned less than a metre above the ground in a rotten stump.
Willow tits can be found in scrubby thickets in damp places. They favour damp, early successional woodland, particularly patches of Elder, Alder, Willow and Birch scrub, and scrubby woodlands at the edges of streams and rivers and in Barnsley along former railway tracks.
RSPB research has identified key habitat features associated with woodlands that were occupied by willow tits compared with those that they have been lost from.
Woods that have retained breeding willow tits have damp soils, lower tree canopy cover and higher cover in the mid shrub layer, and have more species indicative of scrub and wet woodland e.g. , elder, willow, alder. They tend to be younger and smaller woodlands.
Examples of where willow tit can be found in Barnsley include: Old Moor, Edderthorpe, Carlton Marsh, Wilthorpe Marsh, and Worsbrough country park.
Willow tit is a Red List species of conservation concern
Willow tit is a Local Priority Species highlighted in the Barnsley Biodiversity Plan because of its national status and the opportunity there is in Barnsley to help conserve and expand the existing population.
The willow tit is included in the UK List of Priority Species for conservation action under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) in 2007.
The willow tit is listed as a species of ‘principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity’ under section 41 (England) of the NERC Act (2006) in 2008.
Willow tits therefore need to be taken into consideration by any public body in managing their estate.
The willow tit has general protection under the
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; updated in the Country-side and Rights of Way Act 2000.
Willow tit, Poecile montanus. The UK population of Willow Tit fell by 94% between 1970 and 2012; the largest drop of any common resident bird. In many parts of England, especially in the south and east, Willow Tit has almost disappeared.
Nowhere a very common bird, it is still relatively widespread in Barnsley; seen in ones and twos at many sites in the area, and sometimes on feeders.
Reasons for decline and loss
Despite increased competition for nest sites with other tit species and predation by an increased Great Spotted Woodpecker population, it is thought that habitat loss is the main reason for decline.
The clearing away of standing deadwood (nest site requirement) and loss of scrub (food source) in woodlands that are drained of moisture are thought to be the main reasons for decline. Numbers of willow tit have remained stable in Wet Woodland areas.
Good conservation management practice
Habitat management needs to be focused on protecting areas of scrub where willow tits are present. Conservation management can support willow tit by maintaining:
Standing deadwood for nest sites can be provided by cutting suitable quick rotting trees at about chest height and by logs being tied to trees.
Standard nest boxes are not used by willow tit but boxes set low and filled with wood chips can sometimes be used.
Willow tits are not known to disperse over larger distances and so once lost from an area they tend not to return.
Willow tits, between the blue and great tit in size, have a bullnecked appearance with white cheeks and a large sooty-black cap extending to the back of the neck.
What is being done:
The Barnsley Bird Study Group’s Breeding Bird Survey will provide records and analysis of willow tit populations and distributions.
Dearne Valley Green Heart Nature Improvement Area is launching a project to assess and conserve willow tit population in the NIA.
The RSPB with Barnsley Council is undertaking a research project to evaluate the management of sites for willow tits. There are four sites in Barnsley including two control sites.
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