Long-tailed tits benefit from changing climate

After coming in 13th place in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 there’s more good news for Britain’s Long-tailed tits.

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After coming in 13th place in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 there’s more good news for Britain’s Long-tailed tits.

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A 19-year study by experts at the University of Sheffield has revealed that the garden favourite has been an inadvertent winner in the warming global climate.

These pretty little birds – which would be the nation’s smallest were it not for its ubiquitous tail – have doubled their numbers in the last 40 years.

The research, published in the journal Oikos, suggests that pattern is likely to continue.

PhD student Philippa Gullett found that survival rates were closely connected with weather conditions in spring.

“What seems to be going on is that the tits try to raise their chicks at any cost”, said Ms Gullett.

“If it’s cold and wet in spring, that makes their job much tougher. Food is harder to find; eggs and chicks are at risk of getting cold. The result is that by the end of the breeding season, the adult birds are exhausted.”

Consequently the tits find it tough when autumn and winter come round.

The birds only live for about three years, making each breeding season especially important for the species, so these findings will be welcome news for bird fans.

Ms Gullett’s results came off the back off nearly two decades of work carried out in the Rivelin Valley, South Yorkshire.

Researchers caught the birds and fitted them with identifying rings before releasing them. The scientists returned between March and May every year to assess numbers and ring any new arrivals.

Alongside Dr Karl Evans from the University of Sheffield and Rob Robinson from the British Trust for Ornithology, Ms Gullett was able to link growth in long-tailed tit numbers at the site to rising spring temperatures.

Dr Evans said, “Looking ahead to the future, our data suggest that every single plausible climate change scenario will lead to a further increase in long-tailed survival rates.

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“While many species struggle to adjust to climate change, these delightful birds seem likely to be winners.”