Kept informed by a long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tit.

Long-tailed tit.

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LONG-tailed tits have built their nest outside my writing room window. It took them two weeks.

Well, her anyway. He spent most of his time fussing around her, and banging his beak on my window warning me not to watch. Sometimes he was inches away.

Once or twice he brought along a tiny piece of moss to add to her bundles and then didn’t know where to put it but stuffed it onto her neat weaving. He accompanied her on a hunt for spider webs as well. She knew just where to go, digging out bundles of gossamer from the cracks in the brickwork of this old place. The old mother spiders thought they and their families were safe down those tunnels in the mortar.

Cocoons of eggs or babies as big as pin heads were all whipped out and carried back to the tit’s own crèche.

She wound these about the stems of the rose which forms the scaffolding to her mossy nursery. With her puny beak that was now her marlin spike she twisted the gossamer into rigging with the skill of a sailor splicing ropes.

It made a good anchor for her nest. Her husband tapped messages on my window like Morse code.

He soon became irritating but at least it kept me informed of her progress, so I could catch and waste my time in a good cause.

Time spent in reconnaissance is not time wasted, Field Marshal Montgomery said and I find that very useful advice sometimes.

After three or four days the mother tit had made a mossy cup. She sat inside and whirled round and round, just like me stirring my cup of coffee.

Her tail stood straight up like the spoon handle. At this stage it looked like a chaffinch’s nest.

What makes the bottle tit go on to make a dome where the chaffinch would be sitting in the open brooding her eggs? Maybe it is something to do with the size of her eggs, almost half the size.

When those hatch, the babies will be no bigger than mother spiders. They will need duvet-warmth and cover, and that will be provided by the dome of moss over their heads.

Within a week, she had built that. Father tit became frantic with his tapping. Together they went off hunting for tiles to put on the home.

These were flakes of lichen, peeled off the cherry tree, stuck down with gossamer again.

They spent another week collecting feathers. Pigeons killed by sparrowhawks, pheasants in their dust baths, siskins flying into the kitchen window, blackbirds fighting over territory.

The usual number in a long-tailed tit’s nest is two thousand. I have counted them several times when the nest was abandoned.

The master builder and her bodyguard have not just myself watching on. Others find the new house interesting too.

Given the chance, crows, magpies, squirrels, stoats and rats would tear the house to pieces in a second so I keep careful watch with my popgun just in case. If only the male bird would tap a message to me about them.

Richard Williamson