Discovering Species – Bearded Tit

I spent hours with my partner and his parents happily listening and watching the reedbeds in anticipation on a visit to RSPB Titchwell last year. The weather was gorgeous and we had a wonderful day – the highlight being watching a pair of Marsh Harriers “sky dancing” against the cloudless sky as the sun began to set behind us, (a bittersweet end to the day as a group of visitors we passed two minutes later asked if we’d seen the Barn owl that flew straight over our heads!) but the Bearded Tits we’d been keeping an eye and ear out for didn’t show for us.

I’d heard Bearded Tits in the reeds on the reserve where I work a few times since then, and whilst doing breeding bird surveys this summer I finally got to see one. It was a female, and from the vantage point of the sea wall where I was walking, I got a nice view of her in my binoculars. It felt very special to see one of this elusive species going about her day. I still looked forward to seeing a male as well though, with their particularly striking markings. I’d not even heard of a Bearded Tit a few years ago and I like to learn, so I looked into learning a bit more about these sweet birds.

Male Bearded Tit

Basics

Common names
Bearded Tit, Bearded Reedling, Bearded Parrotbill (see “Interesting Fact” below…)

Scientific name
Panurus biarmicus

Order
Passeriformes

Diet
According to RSPB, the Bearded Tit’s diet consists of insects, insect larvae, spiders and seeds. I read an interesting post by Pete Short, who has done years’ worth of research on Bearded Tit diets, and found that reed seeds are a major part of their diet year-round (not just in winter when there are fewer insects about).

Distribution

UK
The RSPB have created a map to show the areas in the UK where Bearded Tits can be seen. There are several sites around the UK coast (South, East and North West England) where Bearded Tits are resident, and a couple of sites on the Scottish coast where they can be seen on passage. There are known to be 630 breeding pairs of Bearded Tit in the UK.

Globally
The global population is estimated to be between three and six million. Countries they have been recorded in include:
• Albania
• Armenia
• China
• Georgia
• Kazakhstan
• Mongolia
• Montenegro
• Norway
• Poland
• Russian Federation (European Russia, Eastern Asian Russia)
• Serbia
• Turkmenistan
• Uzbekistan
• Afghanistan
• Austria
• Azerbaijan
• Belarus
• Belgium
• Croatia
• Czechia
• Estonia
• Hungary
• Ireland
• Italy
• Kyrgyzstan
• Latvia
• Lithuania
• Moldova
• Netherlands
• North Macedonia
• Romania
• Russian Federation (Central Asian Russia)
• Slovakia
• Spain
• Sweden
• Switzerland
• Syrian Arab Republic
• Turkey
• Ukraine
• United Kingdom
• Cyprus
• Iran, Islamic Republic of
• Slovenia
• Bulgaria
• Denmark
• Finland
• France
• Germany
• Greece
• Russian Federation
• Tajikistan
• Lebanon
• Algeria
• Egypt
• Israel
• Japan
• Luxembourg
• Morocco
• Portugal

Habitat
Bearded tits are well known to use reedbeds. Other habitat types they’ve been associated with include dense vegetation alongside fresh water, brackish water, marshes and swamps. Both the males and female of a breeding pair build a cup-shaped nest attached to close-together reed stems, and endearingly make it cosy inside for their 4-8 eggs/chicks using flowering reed heads, feathers and mammal hair, with sheltering vegetation acting as a roof.

In some places, loss of habitat due to drainage of marshland habitat and reed cutting is thought to have caused the breeding population to decrease.

Interesting fact…
Despite still commonly being called Bearded Tit, this unique species was removed from the tit family (Paridae). It was moved to the parrotbill family (Paradoxornithidae), and then eventually into its own family (Panuridae).

A couple of weeks ago, I was going about my morning checks at work and felt extremely lucky to be treated to seeing more Bearded Tits than I could count, and on several days in the same place! The first day, I got a fleeting glimpse of them flitting across the ditch as I approached. The flash of orange-brown against grey gave them away, and I could hear them “pinging” away even after they’d disappeared out of sight. I didn’t see them whilst working over the weekend, but on Monday, they were there again in the same ditch, but stayed within amazing view – I could hardly believe my luck! One brave male even approached closer and closer (I think less than a couple of metres from my feet!) before deciding he was a bit too close and retreating. I didn’t have a camera with me so made do with my phone to record the experience to share and look back on (video below). I highly recommend getting out to try and encounter them first-hand. The excitement is definitely worth the patience!

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