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Gritty goings-on at RSPB Leighton Moss

Last modified: 22 September 2014

Male bearded tit feeding on reed head

Image: Graham Catley

With the nights starting to draw in and the leaves beginning to turn on the trees, autumn is certainly on its way and at RSPB Leighton Moss nature reserve in Silverdale, that means one of its most secretive residents is coming out of hiding – the bearded tits.

These rare birds need reedbed to thrive in, and as Leighton Moss is the biggest reedbed in the north west of England, it provides the perfect home for a large number of bearded tits. During the spring and summer months, the bearded tits eat insects, but at this time of year they switch their diet to something more unusual, giving visitors a much better opportunity to see them.

Alasdair Grubb, Assistant Warden at RSPB Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve, said: “To avoid having to migrate in winter like swifts and swallows, the bearded tits change their diet to eating the seeds of the reeds, with the help of grit.

“Reed seed is very hard and because bearded tits don’t have teeth, they have to take in grit to grind up the seed so they can digest it. This certainly won’t win any prizes on the Great British Bake Off, but to bearded tits, it is a vital ingredient of their diet.

“To help, we put grit out on trays where the bearded tits gather most mornings through October, creating a great opportunity for people to come along and see these otherwise elusive birds.”

The bearded tits which make their home at the reserve are also a strong reflection of the success of Leighton Moss, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Alasdair added: “Bearded tits first arrived at Leighton Moss in 1965 and they have been a firm favourite with visitors ever since. By managing the reedbed for them and the other wildlife at Leighton Moss, we want to continue to provide a home for these special birds for the next 50 years and beyond.”

The RSPB is also working with a range of organisations to help reedbed-loving birds like bearded tits across the wider countryside in Morecambe Bay by restoring, expanding and connecting wetlands. This forms part of its Morecambe Bay Futurescape project, which aims to make the area a better place for people and nature.

Visitors can look for bearded tits throughout October and are also invited to join ‘Brilliant Bearded Tits’ walks, taking place on Wednesday 1, 8, 15 and 22 October from 9.30-11.30 am. The cost is £7 for adults (RSPB members £5.60), children half price, with the first child free. Families can also take part in a bearded tit themed, self-led trail running everyday in October. 

For more information about other events taking place at Leighton Moss, visit www.rspb.org.uk/leightonmoss or call 01524 701601.

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