Great tit

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Great tit
Male of the great tit (Parus major)

Male of the great tit ( Parus major )

Order : Passerines (Passeriformes)
Subordination : Songbirds (passeri)
without rank: Passerida
Family : Titmouse (Paridae)
Genre : Parus
Type : Great tit
Scientific name
Parus major
Linnaeus , 1758

The Great Tit ( Parus major ) is a bird art from the family of tits (Paridae). It is the largest and most widespread species of titmouse in Europe . However, their distribution area extends into the Middle East and through the temperate zone of Asia to the Far East.

The original habitat of the great tit are deciduous and mixed forests with old trees; however, due to its adaptability, it occurs in almost all habitats in which it finds burrows to nest. It is usually one of the most common bird species. The food is very diverse, but mainly insects and their larvae as well as plant foods such as seeds or nuts are eaten. Nests are built in tree hollows, nesting boxes or other cavities and usually between six and twelve eggs are laid in them. Most great tits stay in their breeding areas in winter, where they sometimes roam in small flocks and socialize with other tits. Birds from more northerly regions sometimes migrate to more southerly areas.

From early spring and sometimes even in winter, the rather conspicuous, metallic-bright singing can be heard, which can be a two-syllable tsi-da… tsi-da… tsi-da or, for example, tsi-da-tsit… also three-syllable. In addition, the great tit has a very wide repertoire of calls, such as a high pink and a warning daeda .

In the past there were over 30 subspecies of the great tit. Due to genetic studies, however, the East and South Asian populations were classified as separate species ( Parus minor and Parus cinereus ), which currently have no German names. Thereafter, only 15 subspecies are assigned to the great tit.


With a body length of 13–15 cm, the great tit is one of the larger tit species and is the largest tit in Europe. The wing length is between 71 and 82 mm in males and between 69 and 81 mm in females. The tail length of the male is 59–66 mm, that of the female 55–63 mm. The weight is between 14 and 22 g. The 11.5–13.5 mm long beak is relatively strong and blackish horn-colored with slightly lighter edges. The iris is vivid reddish brown to blackish brown. The legs and feet are blue-gray to slate-gray. The sexes are very similar, but can be distinguished, among other things, by the appearance of the black chest band.

Adult birds

The males have a wider chest band and a wider black border below the white sides of the head.

In adult males of the nominate form , the top of the head, the upper neck, the sides of the neck, the throat and a band on the center of the chest are shiny blue-black. The cheeks and ear covers are pure white and are neatly framed by the black areas. The chest and stomach sides are sulfur to lemon yellow. The black band in the middle widens into a deep black spot between the legs. A whitish band in the neck separates the black of the back of the head from the back and ends in a greenish yellow towards the back. The back and shoulder feathers are otherwise olive green with a grayish tinge. The lower back, rump and upper tail-coverts are blue-gray with a greenish tint on the rump. Longer tail-coverts and control feathers are dark blue-gray. The middle pair of control feathers has a dark line on the shaft, the rest of the black inner vane, the penultimate one a white tip and the outer one a white outer vane, the white color of which extends in the distal part to the middle of the inner vane. The outside of the tail therefore appears white. The upper wing coverts are gray-blue, with the small and medium arm coverts having slightly more dull colored centers, the inner flags of the large arm coverts and the hand coverts having hidden black-gray centers. The large arm covers also show white tips that form a white wing band. The feathers of the alula are black with fine white borders. The hand and arm wings and the umbrella feathers are predominantly black-gray. The umbrella feathers are also wide and lined with a light greenish yellow with a white lace border. With the exception of the two outer hand wings, the wings are narrowly lined with gray-blue and tipped with white, whereby the tips on the hand wings are only weakly pronounced.

In females, the chest band is narrower and often open, as is the black band on the sides of the neck. The black areas are less shiny than in the male.

The female is very similar to the male, but is duller and darker on the top. The headstock has a less bluish sheen and the throat patch is more dull. The black band that frames the cheeks on the sides of the neck is narrower and sometimes interrupted. The vertical chest band is narrower and more dull in color. It often looks messier around the edges and can be interspersed with white towards the belly. The dark belly spot is smaller and there is often more white on the underside of the tail. The gray-blue hems of the arm wings are less noticeable.

Youth dress

The youth dress is similar to the adult annual dress, but is much less colored. The sides of the head, the light band in the neck and the wing band are tinted yellowish or dirty white. The headstock and the sides of the neck are dark olive brown to dark gray and without gloss. The dark gray chest band runs out on the back of the chest. The large plumage is rather dark brown instead of blackish. The hems of the upper wing coverts and the upper tail coverts are matt olive green instead of gray blue. The under tail-coverts are whitish. In contrast to adult birds, the beak is more horn-colored with yellow edges and beak angles, the iris is grayer.

The sexes are not easy to distinguish in youth clothing, but the differences that exist in adult clothing are already indicated. The dark band on the head sides below the cheek area in the female is not present, the band on the middle of the chest is only very weak or missing. The large plumage appears duller or more brownish than that of the male. The best distinguishing feature, however, is the hems of the palm, which are already bluish and clearly set off in the male, but are diffuse brownish, greenish or pale gray in the female.


The juvenile moult is a partial moult in which large parts of the small plumage as well as umbrella and control feathers are moulted to different proportions. The extent of moulting in the thumb feathers, hand covers and large arm covers, as well as that of umbrella and control feathers, varies depending on the geographical location, whereby it is very low in Scandinavian birds, low in north-eastern European birds and mostly complete in western and central European birds. Birds from second broods also moult less completely. Southern and western populations have completed moulting before the migration, while northeastern populations are partly moulting on the move.

The annual molting of adult birds usually begins a short time after the nestlings are rearing, lasts about 70–100 days and occurs between May and October, but in Central Europe usually begins in June. The individual moulting onset can extend over two months within a population. Birds with second broods usually molt later. The moulting period is often shorter in females than in males. In Fennoscandia , due to the shortened breeding season, moulting already begins during the rearing phase and is much faster.


Sonagram of the song of the great tit

The great tit has an extraordinarily rich, variable and differentiated repertoire of vocalizations that has been very well studied.


Song of the great tit

The males' Reviergesang is a series of metallic pure, high and loud motifs of typically two, but sometimes up to four syllables of different pitches, for example as tsi-da ... tsi-da ... tsi-da or zi-da-tit ... da-tit… zi-da-tit can be played back. Mixed stanzas from z. B. alternating two- and three-syllable motifs or different rhythms. The motifs are repeated up to ten times each. With longer pauses in between, the whole series is performed several times, with intensive regional singing in spring also permanently and almost continuously. After several repetitions, there is often a change to another motif, with each male having a repertoire of 3–7, more rarely of up to 18 different types of stanzas. In addition to the number of syllables, tempo, volume, rhythm and accentuation, pitch or sequence as well as the number and spacing of repetitions vary. Other variations are barely perceptible to the human ear, or only perceivable as “impurities”, but could be the main distinguishing features of the individual. If one subjects the sonagram to a finer analysis, it can be seen that an apparently simple stanza is often quite complex and can actually consist of up to six or less often up to ten contracted syllables.

Reviergesang has been very well studied in terms of its expression and effect. For example, males looking for territory can use their song to estimate the population density of an area and - based on the length of the stanzas and the scope of the repertoire - the competence of a rival in territorial defense. Males with a large vocal repertoire are on average more dominant and successful. Territory owners hardly react to singing that is similar to their own, rather slightly to the singing of their neighbors, but certainly to that of foreign intruders. Females usually look for males whose song is the least like that of their father.


One of the most frequent calls, which can mostly be heard from the male and especially outside the breeding season, is a metallic pink , which on its own can hardly be distinguished from the similar call of the chaffinch . But it is often repeated several times or, for example, connected to other typical sounds as zi-pink-pink-pink and is then easier to assign to the great tit. This call can be made as an alarm, warning or lure call. It also seems to play an important role in territorial behavior as a substitute for territorial song outside of the breeding season.

A call of annoyance or excitement at approaching enemies of the ground is a non- melodic sound that can lie between a creaking trrrr or a lined up dädädä . It is often combined with the metallic pink .

As a contact call between partners, a quiet, often multiple sit or a soft is used at a short distance, a high, soft flute di düi at a greater distance , which is often pulled up sharply towards the end. If partners are further away from each other, individual singing motifs (e.g. idä ) are often used to lure them; if they have lost visual contact, a whole series such as didedidedi is sometimes presented. Another sound to be heard in social contacts is a high, short i , which is accentuated close to the pink mentioned above , but is less loud. A si - wüwüwü serves to maintain group cohesion (for example, in the case of an adult bird with several young in the wake) .


The name Great Tit refers to the " coal-black " areas on the head and can be traced back to the 15th century. In the past, common names such as "Brandmeise", the rather unspecific "Black tit" or the French name "Mésange charbonnière" are similar in meaning.

The reference to body size - as with the English Great Tit - also existed in the German-speaking area as "Great Great Tit ", " Great Tit ", "Great Wood Meise" or "Great Black Tit". In contrast to this, the similar coal tit was then referred to, for example, as "small great tit" or "small wood tit". Linnaeus also chose the name Parus major ( Latin maior , comparative of magnus = large) in his first description of 1758.

Names like "finch tit", "Meisenfink" or "Pinkmeise" describe one of the frequent utterances that can hardly be distinguished from the pink of the chaffinch (see above). It was known locally as "Speckmeise", "Schinkenmeise" or "Talgmeise" (Prussian "Talgmöske" or "Talghacker") because it also eats fat, bacon or meat, so it could be observed during domestic slaughter or bacon in winter Stole pantries. The behavior of holding food with your feet and preparing it with a peck coined the term "pick tit". The name "Spiegelmeise", which used to be used in Saxony, refers to the white cheek fields, the rather uncommon name "Grasmeise" probably refers to the color.


Breeding areas without the three subspecies of the Turkestan ant.

The transpalearctic range of the great tit stretches over large parts of the temperate zone and parts of the subtropics of Eurasia - from Portugal and the British Isles in the west to the Jagdy and Bureja Mountains in east Asia. It covers all of Europe with the exception of Iceland , Orkney and Shetland , the far north and some high mountains of Fennoscandia and northern Russia. The northern limit of the distribution in western Russia still follows the northern edge of the middle taiga, but falls relatively continuously to the east to the south, so that it runs in the area of ​​the Stanovoi Mountains along the northern edge of the southern taiga. In northwest Africa the area extends through the Atlas region , in the Mediterranean the occurrence also includes the Balearic Islands , Sardinia , Sicily , Crete and Cyprus to the south . In the area of ​​the eastern Mediterranean coast, the distribution extends in the south to the Sinai and Jordan . In Asia, the southern border runs roughly through the south of Anatolia , through Azerbaijan , to the southern coast of the Caspian Sea and through the Elburs Mountains , and a branch extends over the Zagros Mountains . Excluding the Central Asian arid regions, the area extends over the oases, forests and mountains of Central Asia to northern Afghanistan and the Tian Shan . The populations living there have long been classified as a separate species (Turkestan ant, see below). The southern limit of distribution extends further to the east through the Altai and south from the Changai and Chentii- to the Great Hinggan Mountains and from there to the Khabarovsk region .

Systematics and geographical variation

So far, the great tit has mostly been assigned 33 subspecies, which have been divided into three subspecies groups. Three other subspecies were treated as a separate species called the Turkestan tit ( Parus bokharensis ) or as a fourth subspecies group. Investigations of the mitochondrial DNA have shown that the bokharensis group ( bokharensis , ferghanensis and turkestanicus ) together with the major group form a monophylum that clearly stands out from the other two subspecies groups. This is also supported by characteristics of the song. Today the two East Palearctic and Indomalayic groups are recognized as separate species Parus minor and Parus cinereus , which together with Parus major (including bokharensis ) form a superspecies .

Great tit sunbathing. The wedge-shaped, white outside of the tail is clearly recognizable, a feature that varies significantly geographically.

The geographically varying characteristics of the great tit are the pigmentation of the yellow plumage and the upper side, the extent of the white wedges on the outside of the tail and the size of the beak and body. The latter shows a slight decrease in size from north to south, which, however, only makes a maximum difference of 7 mm in terms of the average wing length and is superimposed by age and gender-related variation. In Europe and North Africa, the extent of the outside of the white tail also decreases from north to south, which is reduced to a minimum in Tunisian birds. From Asia Minor the size increases again eastwards to southern Iran, but decreases again from the northwest to the northeast of Iran.

Regarding the intensity of the yellow coloring - with the exception of the North African subspecies excelsus , which is more vividly colored - the southern European subspecies are paler than the nominate form and the very similar subspecies newtoni . There is also a clinical (gradual) decrease in intensity eastward over the countries of the Middle East.

In the bokharensis subspecies group of Central Asia, pigmentation with yellow lipochromes is completely absent - the underside of the birds are almost white to light gray. The white wedge spot on the outside of the tail extends at least over the two outer pairs of control springs. The tail is proportionally about a quarter longer than in the forms of the major group and stepped, the hand wings blunt. The birds in this group grow larger from west to east, and their beaks become stronger.

Major group

Bokharensis group (Turkestan tit )

  • P. m. bokharensis Lichtenstein , 1823 - southern center of Kazakhstan , Uzbekistan , Turkmenistan and the extreme northeast of Iran, eastward to northern Afghanistan
  • P. m. ferghanensis Buturlin , 1912 - Mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan , eastward to the western Tian Shan
  • P. m. turkestanicus Zarudny & Loudon , 1905 - from southeastern Kazakhstan eastward to the far northwest of China, possibly southwestern Mongolia


The great tit is a partial migrant whose migration behavior is quite unmanageable and varies locally, regionally, over a large area and from year to year. Most populations of southern and temperate latitudes are mostly resident birds , which also rarely move far from their breeding grounds. About 80% of the recovered British ringbirds were within a 10 km radius. In Europe, even north of the Arctic Circle , many great tits still linger in the breeding areas. Often overwinterers are then tied to human settlements, but migration behavior in many places seems to be strongly influenced by winter feeding and other anthropogenic food sources. In the European part of Russia and Belarus , the winter distribution coincides with the distribution of larger settlements.

In addition to breeding birds at higher elevations, parts of the northern and eastern populations in particular migrate regularly to escape extreme cold, heavy snowfall or the shortened daylight span. For example, the populations of the Urals are believed to migrate annually, and the coasts of the Black and Caspian Seas seem to have frequent winter visitors. Most migrant movements are hardly noticed since migrated only part of the population in some years it may be pronounced in north-eastern European and Siberian populations Evasionen come, apparently some with incorrect mast years of beechnuts correlate. The migratory direction is mostly between west and southwest, most of the invasion birds are annual birds with a high proportion of females. Some remain in the winter quarters as breeding birds, but many also seem to return to their traditional breeding areas.


The great tit primarily breeds in deciduous and mixed forests, the trees of which are 60 or more years old enough to ensure a sufficient supply of nesting holes, whereby it nests noticeably more often in rotten tree stumps than in woodpecker holes. In younger forest stands it occurs only sporadically, in closed forest areas it only populates the edge areas, valleys are preferred to mountain forests. The preferred forest composition can vary regionally; in western Central Europe, the highest stand densities are found in oak forests, further east, however, in mixed coniferous forests. Relatively low stand densities are achieved in pure beech forests ; Pine and spruce forests are generally very sparsely populated. In Siberia, the species prefers birch, willow and mixed forests to pure coniferous forests of spruce and fir . In Central Asia, it mainly inhabits forests near rivers.

Due to its great adaptability, the great tit can also be found in numerous other habitats with old trees or artificial nesting holes. In addition to field trees, groups of trees, hedges with interspersed trees, parks, cemeteries, olive groves and orchards, it also inhabits gardens or green areas with individual trees in the middle of cities. In higher mountain areas, in cleared cultivated landscapes or arid areas, it is tied in a special way to human settlements.

The altitude distribution varies depending on the geographical location. The species occurs in Scotland only up to 500 m, in the Alpine region mostly up to 1400 m, but more rarely up to 1950 m, in the Mediterranean region up to around 1800 m and in the mountains of Asia sometimes up to 3000 m. Sometimes you can still find them above the tree line.

Outside the breeding season, the great tit occurs in all imaginable habitats and has also been found in treeless steppe areas, for example.

Due to man-made climate change , pied flycatchers tend to return to Europe earlier and earlier in spring; this leads to conflicts with the great tit, which increasingly puts the pied flycatcher in distress because of the competition for food and nesting sites. In the past, both species could use the breeding grounds one after the other.


The food is often clamped with the feet on a branch and prepared.

The great tit is not very specialized in its diet. The food spectrum is therefore very extensive, but the focus is clearly on insects and their larvae and eggs. In addition, other arthropods - especially spiders and harvestmen - are regularly added. Depending on availability, geographical location and season, other sources of food such as seeds , nuts , fruit, birdseed provided by humans, waste or occasionally carrion are also used extensively . Especially in the northern parts of the range, seeds, beechnuts and hazelnuts can form an important food source in winter. In order to meet the calcium requirement, parts of snail shells and eggshells are eaten and also fed to nestlings.

The animal food during the breeding season consists mainly of caterpillars of owl butterflies and tensioners . In Central Europe, for example, depending on the habitat, these are in particular the common species oak moth , small frost moth or pine owl . Especially large caterpillars are usually fed to the young. If the supply of caterpillars is low, arachnids can play a bigger role as nestling food. Also important are adults and larvae of two-winged birds , beetles and hymenoptera . Outside the breeding season, larvae of sawfly and bush horned sawfly as well as adults of parasitic wasps , but sometimes also bumblebees , bees or wax moths make up a significant part of the prey. In addition to arachnids, other invertebrates also eat bipeds , pseudoscorpions and woodlice . Other groups of insects or invertebrates are only occasionally accepted as food. At times, even very small foods such as aphids , horn mites or various insect eggs can gain in importance. Among the seeds, mainly violet and sorrel seeds are eaten, occasionally birch seeds and only rarely also spruce seeds in winter. In the case of berries or fruit, the seeds seem to be more important than the pulp.

In contrast to other tits, the great tit seeks its food less often in the outer, fine branches in the canopy of trees or in bushes, but rather moves on the lower, stronger branches and twigs, in the trunk area or on the ground. However, habits can vary greatly depending on the season. During the breeding season, the caterpillars of leaf-eating butterfly species are often read from finer, high-lying branches and, especially in winter, the species is often found on the ground foraging. If necessary, the food is prepared before it is eaten and, as with many titmouse species, it is placed on a branch and held in place with the feet. Occasionally, it is also clamped in cracks or branch bifurcations. Larger caterpillars are killed and inedible or harmful parts are removed. For example, bees are de-spined and some caterpillars are depilated. The great tit can also chop up hazelnuts, which can take about ten minutes.

The great tit is very inventive in finding new sources of food in an emergency and is also very capable of learning. A well-known example of this is the opening of the foil caps on milk bottles in the UK - a behavior that quickly spread to some parts of the country. In addition to human supplies, other titmouse species are also used in some cases. The importance of winter feeding can vary widely from one location to another. While it can play an essential role for survival, especially in cold regions, higher altitudes or cleared landscapes, it is more of a supplement in temperate latitudes and apparently only partially contributes to the survival of a population in an emergency. In extreme exceptional cases, such as particularly cold winters, the great tit also kills smaller birds or other vertebrates such as hibernating bats. Usually only smaller parts like the brain or part of the flight muscles are eaten.


The great tit usually behaves very conspicuously and is not shy. It moves mostly hopping and climbing in the branches or on the ground. This is often supported by flapping wings or short gliding phases. Less than other tits, it hangs upside down on branches for a short time. It is also able to climb down a trunk upside down like a nuthatch. Due to the relatively short, round wings and the long control springs, it flies agile and quickly through the branches of trees or undergrowth. Free terrain is usually only overflown hesitantly in a rather slow, arc-shaped flight.

The great tit is diurnal and is most active in the early morning hours all year round. Outside the breeding season there is also a second activity peak in the evening. The singing starts shortly after civil twilight and reaches its highest intensity about a quarter to half an hour later. In the winter months, sometimes even more often after the moult, great tits spend the night in caves. Sleep is very firm, with the bird crouched on the floor of the cave or huddled against a nest box wall and tilting its head upwards with its neck drawn in. Great tits survive very cold nights by lowering their body temperature from the usual 41.8 ° C to 32 ° C and thus using little energy. From spring onwards, the tendency to sleep in nest boxes decreases.

Social behavior

If a conspecific comes too close while eating, the head is lowered when threatening and the head plumage is put on.

Soon after fledging, young great tits join this year's birds from other broods to form flocks of usually less than 30 specimens, which are sometimes also joined by adult birds. First of all, the composition and size of such teams is still very variable. Many rank disputes are fought within the squad and the young males try to establish their own territories in autumn. Distinct hierarchical structures develop, in which males dominate over females, older over younger, territorial over non-territorial birds or territory owners dominate over “guests”. The mortality among this year's birds is very high and permanently inferior individuals leave the flock to migrate, so that the number of birds can be halved by winter.

The remaining squad roams the winter over an area whose borders are not defined in detail and which can overlap with those of other squads. In addition, such an area usually includes several territories of territorial males, of which the troops are however tolerated. Often they and their females also join the swarms. This behavior can be very different from region to region. In southern areas, where most pairs are very faithful to their location, joining swarms is less common than in the northern part of the range, where migratory behavior and swarm formation are more pronounced. Searching for food in a swarm offers more efficiency and therefore often greater advantages than the constant claim of a territory.

The cohesion of the winter groups is strongest in the morning; in the afternoon they can partially or completely disperse. The troops often mix with other titmice, tail titmouse , nuthatch , treecreeper , chaffinch, or golden cockerel . The cohesion with these is only loose and is mostly based on the use of the same food sources. Within mixed tit flocks, the great tit is more dominant than the smaller species.

Antagonistic behavior

When impressing in the "head-up position", the black chest band and the white cheek areas are presented by turning the head. The raised head plumage of the rear bird signals fright or submission.

Especially before winter and at the beginning of the breeding season, fights often occur between great tits. In autumn, these serve to establish the hierarchy in the winter swarm, but also to some extent to acquire or defend a territory. If the hierarchy becomes firm over time, the frequency of conflicts decreases. After a quieter time in winter, territorial behavior becomes more important again in spring. Often the threat of dominant birds is enough to put a conspecific in their place. Sometimes there are bitter fights, which can be particularly fierce with the great tit.

Outside the breeding season, aggressiveness is expressed by the flat laying of the head plumage, whereas upright head plumage shows the opposite - fright or inferiority. With more intense threats, the body is also tilted slightly and the head is lowered ( head-down ). In head-forward , horizontal posture , the bird assumes a horizontal position and stretches its beak out. Attacks against competitors are sometimes also flown.

During the breeding season, the " head-up posture " can be observed among rivals , in which the imposing bird stands up with its head held vertically and shows the black chest band. In addition, the white cheek fields are presented by turning the head. The black chest band is also presented during the “steep flight”, while the attacker flies towards the rival in a vertical position. The impressive behavior can lead to a withdrawal of the rival, but less often also to fights. Two rivals attack each other, flapping their wings and standing tall. Sometimes branches or parts of plants in the area are hacked in advance or in between. Often fights begin in the air until the birds fall to the ground, clench their feet and peck at each other. The beak blows aim at the head of the rival. Fights are usually short and last at most 30–50 seconds.


Great tits become sexually mature towards the end of the first year of life; however, not all annuals brood. Since the proportion of males predominates in most populations, young males in particular often cannot find a partner. However, there is also an increasing proportion of non-breeders among perennial birds.

Great tits lead a monogamous seasonal marriage. In cases in which the partner is another in a second annual brood, this is mostly due to the loss of the previous partner. Due to the high degree of local loyalty, mating often occurs in several consecutive years and long-term permanent marriages have been proven. Outside the breeding season, however, there is hardly any cohesion between partners.

Two annual broods are not uncommon. In southern England, second broods tend to take place in coniferous and mixed forests. In oak forests, where there is an oversupply of insect food early in the year but later a shortage, the species usually only breeds once. Third broods occur but are rare. Exceptionally, there are broods in Israel in the winter months.

The breeding season is between March and July. In Israel, clutches were sometimes found from the end of January. In France, the Czech Republic, the Benelux countries and southern Germany, the main laying period falls in the second half of April, in England, central and northern Germany between the third decade of April and the first decade of May and in Fennoscandia and Russia it is between the end of April and mid-May. Third clutch can still be found in part at the beginning of August. Autumn or even winter broods do occur, but are very rare exceptions.

Pair formation and courtship

Pair formation and courtship can take place in Central Europe from February or March, but not until April if the weather is bad. With the increasing territorial behavior of the males, the winter swarms break up. Initially males behave aggressively towards females; however, this diminishes if the females do not react to it like the males do. Part of the couple behavior is the inspection of potential nest holes, which can also take place in the course of winter. The male flies conspicuously to the loophole and pecks around on the edge. If it sits on the outside, the whitish neck band is very noticeable; if it looks out, the black and white drawing of the face is striking.

During the mating season, the couple is very close. The male becomes active very early in the morning and picks up the female from her sleeping place - among other things to prevent foreign copulation. However, these seem to be not uncommon, as up to 34% of the broods have offspring from strange fathers. Copulations usually take place in the early hours of the morning in thicker branches near the brood cavity. They can be initiated by either partner. To do this, the birds take a crouched position with their heads back and their tails raised, tremble with slightly spread wings and give off typical calls. With short pauses, the excitement increases until the act of mating takes place, after which the partners usually fly a little further away from each other. Shortly before the first eggs are laid, courtship feeding begins, in which the female is supplied with food by the male. This behavior increases in frequency during the egg-laying time.

Nesting place and nest building

Natural, ground-level great tit brood cave in an elderberry bush .

The nesting site is determined by the female from a preselection made by the male. These are often tree hollows such as the great spotted woodpecker or rot caves, but sometimes also deep crevices between 3 and 6 m in the lower trunk area. When there is strong competition from superior species such as starlings , the great tit often evades to heights of less than 3.5 m. If there is no competition, caves up to about 15 m high or more are also chosen. In rotten wood, the great tit can also chop a nest hole itself or expand it. If there is a good supply of nesting boxes, these are often preferred. Sometimes nests of other birds, burrows, wall niches or numerous types of other cavities or half-caves on human structures are assumed to be breeding grounds.

The nest is built almost exclusively by the female. The construction time can be very different. With early first broods it can drag on for a month, with later broods it is reduced to about one to two weeks; replacement or second broods sometimes only need 1–2 days. The size of the nest varies depending on the size of the cave. Particularly deep caves are filled with a thick layer of moss. In addition, the artless, disordered substructure can consist of roots, blades of grass, pine needles or lichen. A hollow 4.5–7.5 cm in diameter and 3.5–7 cm deep is built into it and lined with animal hair, feathers, bast stalks or other fine material.

Clutch and incubation

Great tit eggs (for size comparison with 1 cent coin)

The clutch usually consists of 6–12, sometimes 3–15 round-oval eggs of 17.5 × 13.5 mm in size and slightly shiny eggs, which are very variable brick-red to red-brown speckled, speckled or speckled on a white background. The drawing can be evenly distributed, concentrated at the blunt pole or like a wreath, coarse or fine, abundant or sparse, and seldom completely absent. The eggs are usually laid early in the morning every 24 hours. In the case of prolonged cold spells, the oviposition can be temporarily interrupted. The clutch is only incubated by the female, who is fed by the male during this time.

From the start of egg-laying, the female spends the night on the nest. In order to allow the young to hatch as simultaneously as possible, the incomplete clutch is initially only warmed up at the beginning of the night, which prevents it from cooling down too much. The female then spends the night standing over the eggs, so that the minimum temperature of 25 ° C required for embryonic development is not reached. Later, the incubation time increases per night, but the clutch is usually not permanently incubated until the last eggs are laid. The incubation period can be between 10 and 17 days. It varies depending on the geographical location and is usually between 12 and 15 days in Central Europe. In the case of second broods, the incubation period is usually shorter.

If the female is disturbed on the nest, she adopts a characteristic defensive position in which the tail is spread open and the wings fluttering against the cave wall. It makes a hissing sound and sets up the plumage of the white patches on the cheek. At the end of the hissing sound, there is a clap of the beak and a muffled sound is produced with the flapping of the wings. Presumably this behavior serves to deter predators and is supposed to simulate the presence of a snake. It can also be seen in individuals who spend the night in caves, as well as in a similar form in some other species of titmouse.

Raising the young

Male leaves the nest with a nestling's droppings.

The young usually hatch over 1 to 5 days. The hatching order of the first eggs can differ from that of the laying of the eggs; the middle to last ones are almost always the same. The nestlings are only fledged by the female - usually for between 5 and 7 days. Both partners feed, but the proportion of the female increases sharply after huddling - sometimes up to 90%. Almost only individual prey pieces are fed, but they are usually quite large. They are often stuck into the boy's throat and taken out several times until it is ensured that the position is optimal and the boy can swallow. After feeding, the adult birds wait a moment for the droppings to be released. In the first few days the faeces are eaten by the parents, later carried away. The nestling period is usually between 16 and 22 days, in Central Europe mostly between 17 and 20 days.

After leaving, the young are usually fed for about 6 to 10 days, but sometimes for up to 25 days. In the case of second broods, this period is usually 14 to 22 days or longer.


Birdpox in a great tit in Sussex .

Parasitic infections with haemosporidia , such as Haemoproteus , Plasmodium or Leucocytozoon , are extremely common in great tits. In a study carried out in the canton of Vaud between 2009 and 2011 , the prevalence of adult great tits was over 90%.

Great tits can get birdpox . This viral disease was first observed in southern England in 2006. The number of cases of infection increases year by year and the disease continues to spread. In contrast to birdpox in non-tits, smallpox is comparatively large, ulcerating and has a cheese-like core. There are also reports of birdpox in great tits from Austria , Hungary and the Czech Republic, among others . Two cases had been observed in Germany up to 2012. The disease is also comparatively rare in southern England. Between 2006 and 2010, 211 cases were reported in great tits. By comparison, the UK population of great tits was around 5.7 million in 2006.


In Germany , the great tit is considered the fourth most common breeding bird species with 4.6 to 5.7 million breeding pairs in 2008.


  • Urs N. Glutz von Blotzheim , Kurt M. Bauer (ed.): Handbook of the birds of Central Europe. Volume 13/1: Passeriformes (4th part): Muscicapidae - Paridae. AULA-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1993, ISBN 3-89104-022-9 , pp. 678–808, (Also as: Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas. The largest electronic reference work on the birdlife of Central Europe on CD-ROM for PC + MAC. Vogelzug-Verlag in Humanitas-Buchversand, Wiebelsheim 2001, ISBN 3-923527-00-4 ).
  • Simon Harrap , David Quinn: Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1995, ISBN 0-691-01083-8 .
  • Hans-Günther Bauer, Einhard Bezzel , Wolfgang Fiedler (Hrsg.): The compendium of birds of Central Europe. One-volume special edition of the 2nd, completely revised edition. Aula-Verlag, Wiebelsheim 2012, ISBN 978-3-89104-758-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Great tit  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Great tit  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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