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Do blue tits get food for their young at a distance from their nest?

Sent in by Roger Dobson, Stockton on Tees

Although blue tits are territorial, they do get a proportion, sometimes a significant one, of their food from outside their territory. Where they go is all dependent on where the best sources of the right sort of food are.

Blue tits feed their young with certain moth caterpillars in preference, and are prepared to travel some distance to collect the right food for their family. Generally speaking, broadleaved trees carry better insect crops than conifers, and native trees are better than exotics, although there are exceptions.

The best tree of all is the oak. It supports a good crop of winter moth caterpillars, and a large quantity of other insects, and given the choice, blue tits would spend the bulk of their time foraging in oak trees.

Blue tits are prepared to travel some distance to collect the right food for their family

Birch and hawthorn are other good sources of food. When I was researching the habitat use of woodland birds, including blue tits, I discovered that if there were oaks, birches and hawthorns close to the nest, blue tits did not stray far from their nest in their search of caterpillars for the chicks.

However, I did find some birds nesting in nestboxes in the middle of a conifer plantation. These birds completely ignored the nearby trees, and brought all food to the nest from the streamside broadleaved trees some 200 metres away.

I suspect that your local blue tits have discovered the right kind of trees at some distance from you, perhaps in a nearby wood or in a neighbour's garden.

If you would like to encourage them to stay closer to home in future years, the right kind of planting will help. While oaks tend to grow too big for most suburban gardens, most gardens can take a tree the size of a birch or a hawthorn.

Have a look in the Homes for Wildlife pages for lots more advice on what to plant to provide food for birds.

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