The Great Tit (Parus major) is a passerine bird in the tit family . It is a widespread and common species throughout Europe in any sort of woodland. It is resident, and most Great Tits do not migrate.
The Great Tit was originally described under its current binomial name by Linnaeus in his 18th century work, Systema Naturae. Its scientific name is derived from the Latin parus "tit" and maior "larger".
The Great Tit is easy to recognize, large in size at 14 cm, with a broad black line (broader in the male) down its otherwise yellow chest. The neck and head are black with white cheeks and ear coverts. Upper parts are olive. It has a white wingbar and outer tail feathers. Young birds are duller.
It is, like other tits, a vocal bird, and has a large variety of calls, of which the most familiar is a "teacher, teacher", also likened to a squeaky wheelbarrow wheel. In the First Movement of Bruckner's 4th Symphony several Great Tit songs are strung together in a very realistic manner. Interestingly, Great Tits from the two south Asian groups of races do not recognize the calls of the temperate Great Tits, and they may be a separate species.
Distribution and habitatEdit
The Great Tit has a wide distribution across much of Eurasia. It is found across all of Europe except for Iceland and northern Scandinavia, and then across the Middle East, Northern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and parts of central Asia as far as Japan. Another band of distribution occurs through Iran into northern India into Southeastern Asia, whilst another population lives in southern India. The species also occurs over much of China, Korea and Japan, and in Indonesia down into Borneo and as far as the Lesser Sundas.
The breeding population of Great Tits in the city of Sheffield, UK (a city of half a million people), has been estimated at 17,164 individuals.
The Great Tit was unsuccessfully introduced into the United States; birds were set free near Cincinnati, Ohio between 1872 and 1874 but failed to become established. Birds later introduced to the Almaty Province in what is now Kazakhstan in 1960-61 and have become established, although present status is unclear.
Great Tits will join winter tit flocks with other species.
Diet and feedingEditGreat Tits are primarily insectivores. They prefer protein rich caterpillars during breeding season to feed their young. A study published in 2007 found that Great Tits helped to reduce caterpillar damage in apple orchards by 50%. In England, Great Tits learned to break the foil caps sealing bottles of milk that had been delivered to homes to obtain the cream floating on top.
It was reported in 2009 that Great Tits have been observed killing and eating pipistrelle bats. This is the first time a songbird has been seen to hunt bats. The tits only do this during winter when the bats are hibernating and other food is scarce.
Great Tits are cavity nesters, breeding in a hole that is usually inside a tree, although occasionally in a wall, rock face, and they will readily take to nest boxes. The number in the clutch is often very large, but seven or eight white spotted red eggs are normal, with bigger clutches being laid by two or even more hens. The bird is a close sitter, hissing when disturbed.
The nestlings are unusual for altricial birds in having plumage coloured with carotenoids similarly to their parents. In most species it is dun-coloured to avoid predation. The nape is yellow and attracts the attention of the parents by its ultraviolet reflectance. This may be to make them easier to find in low light or a signal of fitness to win the parents' attention. This patch turns white after the first moult at an age of two months, and diminishes in size as the bird grows.
The color of the male bird's breasts has been shown to correlate with stronger sperm, and is one way that the male demonstrates reproductive superiority to females. This is due to an increase in carotenoid, which gives the breast its color, as well as enables the sperm to better withstand the onslaught of free radicals.
Relationship with humansEdit
The Great Tit is a popular garden bird due to its acrobatic performances when feeding on nuts or seed. Its willingness to move into nest boxes has made it a valuable study subject in ornithology, and it is one of the best studied birds in the world.
However, human habitat also has an effect on the Great Tit. The song of the Great Tit has been observed to change in noise polluted urban environments. In areas with low frequency background noise pollution, the song has a higher frequency than in quieter areas.