Bearded wonders...

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Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

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Bearded wonders...

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 Bearded tit image courtesty of Kevin Simmonds,

Bearded tits don’t subscribe to the Ronseal approach of ‘does what it says on the tin’ because they are actually neither tits nor bearded. Research places these dainty golden brown birds as the only British member of a tropical family, the babblers. And as for the beard, well, you don’t need to be a facial hair expert to know that isn’t a beard - their look would be better described as a moustache or even ‘mutton chop’ style. Quite military and distinguished, I think you’ll agree.

Like me, always happier in temperate climes, the bearded tit population will be hoping for a mild winter. These sparrow sized birds are particularly vulnerable to cold weather and following the hard winter of 1947, the Norfolk population was devastatingly reduced down to just a single bird. That’s not the only reason ‘beardies’ have had a hard time as a breeding species in the UK. Habitat loss due to drainage, persecution by collectors during Victorian times and loss of habitat due to agricultural practices have provided significant challenges to their survival in the last three hundred years.

Since then, milder winters, conservation measures and an impressive capability for speedy breeding have enabled the Norfolk population to make a startling recovery to around 140 pairs.

At RSPB Titchwell Marsh nature reserve, the wardens are giving bearded tits a real helping hand. Firstly, they keep the reedbeds on which these secretive birds depend in tip top condition. The reedbeds offer a total sanctuary for bearded tits providing shelter, nest sites and a supply of seeds to eat throughout the winter. But the wardens have also gone the extra mile...

If you have sharp eyes you may spot some unusual structures in Titchwell’s reedbeds. Looking like a vital accessory for a game of quidditch, these ‘broomsticks’ - made of a broom handle and bundles of reed - appear to have been abandoned in the reedbed. In fact, there’s no magic involved, just a bit of creative thinking. These are actually perfect mobile homes for ‘beardies’; cosy snugs just right for a new family, that can be moved out of the way of rising water levels which would otherwise wash away precious nests, eggs and chicks.

Bearded tits are both secretive and well camouflaged and that makes them harder to spot than a needle in a reedbed! But they do have a distinctive, metallic call known as ‘pinging’, which sounds just like a ball bearing being dropped onto sheet metal. If you hear this noise then keep your eyes open and you may be lucky enough to see a flock darting through the reedbed.

Why not pop along to Titchwell, where staff and volunteers will be on hand to point you in the right direction of the beautiful, but badly named, bearded tit?

  • Great blog. Keep up the good work 'Blondes, Birds and Beasts in the East'!