Marsh or Willow Tit

and other fine ‘garden birds’

Nice one- all almost all who had declared were right: it was a Marsh Tit. One of at least 2 coming to feeders right outside the kitchen window of our accommodation at Minsmere RSPB reserve (9-11 March). Good chance to check the features, and much discussed was the ‘new’ feature of pale spot at the base of the bill. This feature was very obvious on one and often hard to see on the other. Willow Tits have an all black bill with no pale bill spot. They called a fair bit and neither had an obvious pale panel over the secondaries as often seen on Willow Tit.

The ‘white spot’ feature…

… seems to be percolating through British birder consciousness. Some of us in the cottage new about it and others didn’t. In a nutshell: Marsh Tits have it, Willow Tits don’t. Aside of the white spot, Richard Broughtons’ study places calls and song, and cheek pattern as the most reliable features for separating these 2 tricky species.

Marsh Tit showing obvious white spot at bill base. one of the most reliable visible characters for separating Marsh and Willow Tits in Britain.

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Marsh Tit,  Minsmere, March 2012. The pale bill spot is weak on this one, but there is pretty obvious contrast in this shot between the small area of white cheek and pale buffy/beige area behind the ear coverts. Willow Tits look more ‘all-white’ here and so give impression of ‘bigger cheek’.

Marsh Tit,  Minsmere, March 2012. White spot at bill base looks bit more obvious here.

Glossy or Matt Black Cap?

Must admit I never got that one. Looked for it as supposed feature and never seemed to see it. For me identifying these 2 species usually boiled down to call differences and the presence or absence of an obvious pale wing panel. The papers highlighted above have certainly sharpened things up and I am please to say, down graded the glossy/ matt feature of the cap!

same Marsh Tit: Above as sun catches= glossy. Below in shadow= matt. Won’t be looking for this character anymore!

could be sometimes trickier to see the white spot with bill full of food…

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Nice plain brown wings, the way Marsh Tits are supposed to look according to my old books!

The more often seen garden birds, showed very nicely at the same feeders:

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About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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4 Responses to Marsh or Willow Tit

  1. Nick Moran says:

    Beware Willow Tits where the limit of the rhinotheca (I had to look that one up!) is revealed by missing / displaced feathers, such as this miserable-looking juv we caught in Thetford June 2011. Could look like a white spot in the field.

  2. Reblogged this on Birding in Stockholm and commented:
    Fantastic reading on the ID of Willow and Marsh Tits, birds I personally find really difficult to ID without clear photos. I haven’t as of yet learnt the calls but the more you hear and can visually ID the easier it is to place calls to birds.

  3. These guys are so adorable.

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