The great tit (Parus major) is the largest of the British tits and is a familiar garden visitor (4)(5). It is slightly smaller in size than a house sparrow (5) and is easily recognised by its yellow underparts with a black band running down the centre of the breast, a black head and large white cheek patches. The back is green in colour, the greyish-blue wings feature a white bar and the sides of the tail are white (2). Males can be distinguished from females as the black central band on the breast is much thicker (2). Juveniles are duller and paler in colour than adults (5) and their cheek patches are yellow (2). Great tits have an amazingly varied repertoire of calls (6), but a sharp, loud ‘tink tink’ is often produced (5). The two-syllable song, which can be heard all year round is a mechanical ‘ti-ta-ti-ta-ti-ta’ (2)(3).
During summer, great tits tend to feed mainly on invertebrates taken from leaves, but in autumn the diet slowly changes, incorporating more seeds and fruits. By November, seeds make up a large proportion of the diet and in periods of low food availability they will enter gardens and feed on peanuts and other food provided by humans (4). Because of their larger size, great tits tend to feed on the ground more than other smaller tits (6).
Great tits nest in holes in trees, nest boxes, pipes and even letter boxes (5)(2)(6). The female lays between 6 and 11 eggs; these are incubated for up to 15 days and the young will have fledged after a further 16 to 22 days (3).
This common tit is found throughout Britain where it is largely resident (it remains throughout the year) (3)(4). Elsewhere, the great tit is widespread throughout Europe, Asia and the Far East and there are many subspecies, some of which lack the yellow colouration on the breast (5). In years when food availability is low, birds belonging to the continental race may fly to Britain (4).
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