Willow tit

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Willow tit
Poecile montanus kleinschmidti.jpg
Subspecies kleinschmidti, Wigan, England
Song recorded near Bryansk, Russia
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Paridae
Genus: Poecile
P. montanus
Binomial name
Poecile montanus
Poecile montanus distribution map.png
Range of Poecile montanus

Parus montanus

In the UK

The willow tit (Poecile montanus) is a passerine bird in the tit family, Paridae. It is a widespread and common resident breeder throughout temperate and subarctic Europe and across the Palearctic. The plumage is grey-brown and off-white with a black cap and bib. It is more of a conifer specialist than the closely related marsh tit, which explains it breeding much further north. It is resident, and most birds do not migrate.


The willow tit was described in 1827 by the Swiss naturalist Thomas Conrad von Baldenstein under the trinomial name Parus cinereus montanus.[2] The type locality is the mountain forests in the Canton of Grisons, Switzerland.[3] The willow tit is now placed in the genus Poecile that was erected by the German naturalist Johann Jakob Kaup in 1829.[4] The genus name, Poecile, is the Ancient Greek name for a now unidentifiable small bird, and the specific montanus is Latin for "of the mountains".[5]

Poecile was at one time treated as a subgenus within the genus Parus but molecular taxonomic analysis, using both nuclear and mitochondrial genes, supports Poecile as a distinct clade. Within Poecile, most of the Old World species (including the willow tit) form a separate clade from the New World chickadees.[6] The taxonomic analysis has shown that the willow tit is sister to the Caspian tit (Poecile hyrcanus).[6][7]

The willow tit was formerly considered conspecific with the black-capped chickadee of North America due to their very similar appearance. This is seen in an older version of the Peterson Field Guide, Birds of Britain and Europe. Underneath the name it states; "N Am. Black-Capped Chickadee" as an alternate name. In fact the willow tit, black-capped chickadee, marsh tit and Carolina chickadee are all very similar to one another in appearance.

There are 14 recognised subspecies:[8]

  • P. m. kleinschmidti (Hellmayr, 1900) – Britain
  • P. m. rhenanus (O. Kleinschmidt, 1900) – northwest France to west Germany, north Switzerland and north Italy
  • P. m. montanus (Conrad von Baldenstein, 1827) – southeast France to Romania, Bulgaria and Greece
  • P. m. salicarius (C. L. Brehm, 1831) – Germany and west Poland to northeast Switzerland and Austria
  • P. m. borealis (de Sélys-Longchamps, 1843) – Scandinavia south to Ukraine
  • P. m. uralensis (Grote, 1927) – southeast European Russia, west Siberia and Kazakhstan
  • P. m. baicalensis R. Swinhoe, 1871 east central and east Siberia, north Mongolia, north China and north Korea
  • P. m. anadyrensis (Belopolski, 1932) northeast Siberia
  • P. m. kamtschatkensis Bonaparte, 1850 – Kamchatka Peninsula and north Kuril Islands
  • P. m. sachalinensis (Lönnberg, 1908) – Sakhalin Island and south Kuril Islands
  • P. m. restrictus (Hellmayr, 1900) – Japan
  • P. m. songarus (Severtsov, 1873) – southeast Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan and northwest China
  • P. m. affinis Przewalski, 1876 – north central China
  • P. m. stoetzneri (O. Kleinschmidt, 1921) – northeast China

The Sichuan tit (Poecile weigoldicus) was formerly treated as a subspecies of the willow tit. It was promoted to species status based on a 2002 phylogenetic analysis that compared DNA sequences from the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene.[9][10] The single locus results were later confirmed by a larger multi-locus analysis published in 2017.[7]


Subspecies Poecile montanus restrictus in Japan

The willow tit is 11.5 cm (4.5 in) in length, has a wingspan of 17–20.5 cm (6.7–8.1 in) and weighs around 11 g (0.39 oz).[11]

In the east of its range it is much paler than marsh tit, but as one goes west the various races become increasingly similar, so much so that it was not recognised as a breeding bird in Great Britain until the end of the 19th century, despite being widespread.

The willow tit is distinguished from the marsh tit by a sooty brown instead of a glossy blue black cap; the general colour is otherwise similar, though the under parts are more buff and the flanks distinctly more rufous; the pale buff edgings to the secondaries form a light patch on the closed wing. The feathers of the crown and the black bib under the bill are longer, but this is not an easily noticed character. However, the more graduated tail (not square) shows distinctly when spread.

The commonest call is a nasal zee, zee, zee, but the notes of the bird evidently vary considerably. Occasionally a double note, ipsee, ipsee, is repeated four or five times.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]


Eggs, collection Museum Wiesbaden, Germany

The willow tit excavates its own nesting hole, even piercing hard bark; this is usually in a rotten stump or in a tree, more or less decayed. Most nests examined are cups of felted material, such as fur, hair and wood chips, but feathers are sometimes used. The number of eggs varies from six to nine, with reddish spots or blotches.

In a study using ring-recovery data carried out in northern Finland, the survival rate for juveniles for their first year was 0.58, and the subsequent adult annual survival rate was 0.64.[12] For birds that survive the first year the typical lifespan is thus only three years.[13] The maximum recorded age is 11 years; this has been recorded for a bird in Finland and for another near Nottingham in England.[14][15]

Food and feeding[edit]

Birds feed on insects, caterpillars, and seeds, much like other tits. This species is parasitised by the moorhen flea, Dasypsyllus gallinulae.[16]


The willow tit has an extremely large range with an estimated population of between 175 and 253 million mature individuals. This large population appears to be slowly decreasing but the decline is not sufficiently rapid to approach the threshold of vulnerability. The species is therefore classed as of least-concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[1] In contrast, the number in the United Kingdom declined by 83% between 1995 and 2017. There was also a contraction in the range.[17] The rapid decline is believed be due to three factors: habitat loss, competition for nest holes by other tits particularly blue tits, and nest predation by the great spotted woodpecker.[18][19][20] Over the same period, the number of great spotted woodpeckers increased fourfold.[17]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2019). "Parus montanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2019: e.T155139697A155139155. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T155139697A155139155.en. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  2. ^ von Baldenstein, Thomas Conrad (1827). "Nachrichten über die Sumpf-Meise (Mönchs-Meise) (Parus palustris Linn.)". In Steinmüller, Johann Rudolf (ed.). Neue Alpina : eine Schrift der Schweizerischen Naturgeschichte Alpen- und Landwirthschaft gewiedmet (in German). Volume 2. Winterthur: Steiner. pp. 30–36 [31]. |volume= has extra text (help)
  3. ^ Paynter, Raymond A. Jr, ed. (1986). Check-List of Birds of the World. Volume 12. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 77. |volume= has extra text (help)
  4. ^ Kaup, Johann Jakob (1829). Skizzirte Entwickelungs-Geschichte und natürliches System der europäischen Thierwelt (in German). Darmstadt: Carl Wilhelm Leske. p. 114.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 259, 311. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ a b Johansson, Ulf S.; Ekman, Jan; Bowie, Rauri C. K.; Halvarsson, Peter; Ohlson, Jan I.; Price, Trevor D.; Ericson, Per G. P. (2013). "A complete multilocus species phylogeny of the tits and chickadees (Aves: Paridae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 69 (3): 852–860. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.06.019. PMID 23831453.
  7. ^ a b Tritsch, Christian; Martens, Jochen; Sun, Yue-Hua; Heim, Wieland; Strutzenberger, Patrick; Päckert, Martin (2017). "Improved sampling at the subspecies level solves a taxonomic dilemma – A case study of two enigmatic Chinese tit species (Aves, Passeriformes, Paridae, Poecile)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 107: 538–550. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2016.12.014. PMID 27965081.
  8. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2020). "Waxwings and their allies, tits & penduline tits". IOC World Bird List Version 10.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  9. ^ Salzburger, Walter; Martens, Jochen; Nazarenko, Alexander A.; Sun, Yua-Hue; Dallinger, Reinhard; Sturmbauer, Christian (2002). "Phylogeography of the Eurasian Willow Tit (Parus montanus) based on DNA sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 24 (1): 26–34. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00266-X. PMID 12128026.
  10. ^ Eck, S.; Martens, J. (2006). "Systematic notes on Asian birds. 49. A preliminary review of the Aegithalidae, Remizidae and Paridae". Zoologische Mededelingen. 80–5: 1–63 [18–19].
  11. ^ Cramp & Perrins 1993, pp. 169, 184.
  12. ^ Orell, Markku; Belda, Eduardo J. (2002). "Delayed cost of reproduction and senescence in the willow tit Parus montanus". Journal of Animal Ecology. 71 (1): 55–64. doi:10.1046/j.0021-8790.2001.00575.x.
  13. ^ "Willow Tit Poecile montanus". Bird Facts. British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  14. ^ "European Longevity Records: Willow Tit". Euring: European Union for Bird Ringing. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  15. ^ "Ringing and Nest Recording Report: Longevity records for Britain & Ireland in 2018". Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  16. ^ Rothschild, Miriam; Clay, Theresa (1953). Fleas, Flukes and Cuckoos: A Study of Bird Parasites. London: Collins. p. 113.
  17. ^ a b Harris; S.J.; Massimino; D.; Eaton; M.A; Gillings; S.; Noble; D.G; Balmer; D.E; Pearce-Higgins, J.W.; Woodcock, P. (2019). The Breeding Bird Survey 2018 (PDF). BTO Research Report 717. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology. ISBN 978-1-912642-05-2.
  18. ^ Siriwardena, Gavin M. (2004). "Possible roles of habitat, competition and avian nest predation in the decline of the Willow Tit Parus montanus in Britain". Bird Study. 51 (3): 193–202. doi:10.1080/00063650409461354.
  19. ^ Lewis, Alex J.G.; Amar, Arjun; Chormonond, Elisabeth C.; Stewort, Finn R.P. (2009). "The decline of the Willow Tit in Britain" (PDF). British Birds. 102: 386–393.
  20. ^ Parry, Wayne; Broughton, Richard K. (2018). "Nesting behaviour and breeding success of Willow Tits Poecile montanus in north-west England" (PDF). Ringing & Migration. 33 (2): 75–85. doi:10.1080/03078698.2018.1631610.


  • Cramp, Stanley; Perrins, C.M., eds. (1993). "Parus montanus Willow Tit". Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume VII: Flycatchers to Strikes. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 168–186. ISBN 978-0-19-857510-8. |volume= has extra text (help)

External links[edit]