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Biology – Long-Tailed Tit

Biology –  Long-Tailed Tit

| On 18, Sep 2019

Darrell Mann

Long tailed tits, recognisable by their undulating flight, a tail much longer than its small, pinkish body and generally flying in a small flock, are also known as ‘flying teaspoons’. You generally hear them before you see them as they flit along in small flocks. They often nest in hedges/bushes/brambles or thickets, making them difficult to find, particularly after the leaves have opened. The ones I have found have all been in hawthorns, blackthorns or brambles, making them harder for predators to reach. They may also nest in the fork of a tree trunk and branch. Whenever I have been lucky enough to find one, it has mostly been before any leaves are fully open or my attention has been raised by hearing the characteristic sounds that they make when they return to their nests. They are early nest builders so look out for them late February or March, before the leaves open. Their nest are beautifully elaborate.

The birds, being small, need insulation as they carry very little body fat. This places significant resource issues regarding the building of its nest: more temperature insulation means adding more material. Beyond this problem, like a wren, it is one of a few birds that makes a roof dome over its nest, which helps to retain warmth. Being closed, the long-tailed tit, however, then creates another problem – as the eggs hatch and the chicks grow, there’s less available space for them all. The nest, in other words, needs to get bigger, but achieving this creates a fundamental problem relating to the structural stability.

Here’s what this cluster of nest-related problems looks like when mapped on to the Contradiction Matrix:

So, how does the long-tailed tit solve the contradictions? It is made of (Principle 24) moss woven with (Principle 30) cobwebs and hair, then finished off with pieces of lichen. The cobwebs are used to bind the (Principle 35) pliable moss to nearby branches and twigs and allows the nest to stretch. It is also used to weave and stick the lichen pieces to the outside of the nest, each piece of which is collected by the birds and held in place by the cobwebs. The dappled effect it makes, really helps with the camouflage, when used against a tree trunk or as in the nest above, against the sky. Some of the smarter birds can be observed raiding the same spiders, so that no sooner has the spider built its next web, along comes the tit to steal it and use it as a natural nest-glue.

Finally, when the structure is complete, the tits shift their attention to the insulation challenge. Here, both the male and female birds line the base with on average over 1500+ feathers (Principle 31), a few their own (Principle 33), but the majority being plucked from dead birds. Which the long-tailed tit has evolved to be especially alert to, keeping a keen eye out for birds of prey and the discarded remains of their smaller-bird dinner.

Overall, the long-tailed tit nest takes 3 weeks to build. It is one of the most sophisticated structures in the natural world: four different materials (Principle 3), doing four different jobs.

 

 

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