Protecting the Willow Tit in Galloway

Small and quietly coloured, the willow tit is a charming little bird. Sadly, it is one of the fastest declining birds in the UK, but thankfully the Galloway Glens is one of its strongholds and possibly the best place in Scotland to see this species. The bird feeders at RSPB Scotland’s Ken-Dee Marshes reserve on Loch Ken are an excellent place to look for your first viewing.

It is a bird that lives in wet woodland, ideally in trees between 15 and 25 years old. However, this habitat is often short-lived. Sites dry out or develop into mature woodland over 20-30 years, and this seems to be one of the reasons why the willow tit is declining. These wet woods are also sometimes the areas of ‘scruffy’ woodland that get cleared or drained.

Willow tits eat invertebrates such as mayflies, bugs and spiders in the summer months, and seeds and berries in the winter. They will store food to eat later. They nest in a hole in a rotten tree, birch being much preferred. They excavate their own nest hole, or occasionally take over an incomplete woodpecker hole. The nest is often in a surprisingly slender trunk, such that only the bark remains between the hole and the outside. The excavation of a nest hole can be a noisy activity, as both birds often call repeatedly to each other. An excavating willow tit pair is thus vulnerable to detection by other birds, especially blue and great tits, and if either of these species finds a willow tit nest hole, they can oust the occupants with little difficulty. This is thought to be another reason for their decline.

 

Andrew Bielinski, Area Manager for RSPB Dumfries & Galloway, said:

RSPB Scotland has been managing woodland areas for willow tits on our reserve at the Ken-Dee Marshes for many years, especially around the northern part of the reserve at Kenmure Holms near New Galloway. We have installed special nest boxes for the birds and are also managing areas to create and maintain the younger woodland that the birds prefer. Our grant from the Galloway Glens Scheme is supporting this work, as well as providing some interpretation at Kenmure Holms. You can find this by walking along the footpath / flood-bank from Carsons Knowe in New Galloway (of the Old Edinburgh Road) but please do be careful not to disturb this precious natural habitat with dogs or too much noise, especially in the Spring breeding season. We are very lucky to be near one of the last thriving areas for this rare bird in Scotland – do head out to the Kenmure Holms to learn more about them and maybe even see one.

 

Nick Chisholm, Galloway Glens Project Officer said:

“The Willow Tit is emblematic of the biodiversity loss that we are experiencing in this country, so many species, that are relatively unknown by the wider public, are quietly disappearing. It is testament to the energy of the RSPB that they are not quietly watching the second fastest decline of any British bird without acting. At Galloway Glens we are proud to support this important project and hope that many others get involved in the census. Our thanks go to National Lottery Heritage Fund for their funding and our partners including Dumfries & Galloway Council and the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere.”

 

The RSPB is continuing their national willow tit survey in 2020, with support from several other organisations and county bird clubs. The survey period will be from mid-February to mid-April, during the pre-breeding season. At this time, the birds are very territorial, with one or more visits within a given 4km2 square (known as tetrad) during this period. Surveys will be conducted in all suitable habitats within tetrads, using a standardised playback method. This involves playing a recording of both a willow tit alarm call and their song and listening for a response. If anyone is interested in being involved in this national survey, please do get in touch:

Simon Wotton by emailing simon.wotton@rspb.org.uk or phoning 01767 693396

or Paul Bellamy by emailing paul.bellamy@rspb.org.uk or phoning 01767 693379.