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  • Gulls by Laurie Campbell

    Crested Tit Appeal: High Quality Records Needed

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Last year, the Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus scoticus was re-submitted to the UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP) species’ list, as a result of the latest data available suggesting that there may be less than 2,000 breeding pairs now. Here in the UK, the species is restricted to what remains of the ancient Caledonian pine forests of the Scottish Highlands and Moray and Nairn regions, where it is a scarce, local breeder; the entire breeding population is taxonomically classed as the sub species, Lophophanes cristatus scoticus, endemic to Scotland. The story of the Crested Tit’s status, however, remains unresolved because not enough good quality data has been recorded each year for conservationists to make a truly conclusive estimate of its population. The last assessment on the status of Crested Tit was published in The Birds of Scotland (Forrester et al. 2007). A subsequent analysis using all available data was carried out by RBBP panellist, Ian Francis. This recent review by the RBBP concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that the Crested Tit population is much different from the 2007 findings. However, uncertainty surrounding this conclusion remains until more conclusive data in the form of good quality records become available. Secretary of RBBP, Mark Eaton, outlines the problem and the best solution as he sees it:

“Despite being a charismatic and popular bird with birdwatchers, we know relatively little about how Scotland’s Crested Tits are faring, or even how many of them there are. Current estimates of between one and two thousand pairs suggest that the species belongs on the RBBP species list. By encouraging birdwatchers to submit records of Crested Tits wherever they see them during the breeding season, we hope to improve our knowledge and, in time, be able to answer the question of whether it really is a rare breeding bird.”

Birdwatchers in Scotland can help improve the RBBP’s understanding of Crested Tit populations by submitting good quality records from the 2020 breeding season onwards to local county recorders or via BirdTrackJohn Poyner and Martin CookHighland and Moray & Nairn Bird Recorders explain further:

“We have good coverage of forests such as Abernethy, Culbin and around Inverness, for example, but there are still large areas of plantations and forest where few birders visit regularly. Even in the well-covered areas, sightings don't really give much indication of how many pairs there are. We would encourage birders to perhaps try and visit more under-watched forests that they don't normally visit and try and record any birds there. Local knowledge is very useful here, identifying places that we are unlikely to have many records from.

We are appealing for summer records to be as accurate as possible, especially if breeding is suspected or a nest located. Essentially, a six-figure grid reference of the sighting and ideally use of the BTO breeding codes. Using BirdTrack is the easiest way to find these codes as well as enter your records. So, for example, if you are doing a forest walk, try and estimate how many different birds you come across that are on territory. Later in the summer, any obvious brood counts would also be very useful. It should be pointed out that Crested Tit is still a Schedule 1 species so when any potential nest sites are discovered, care should be taken to avoid any disturbance.”

Crested Tits are a tiny, buff brown tit, with a black eye stripe extending around the cheek, black throat collar and a distinct, sharp-pointed crest.

Crested Tit

Listen for a thin, trilling, rolling or purring note with a distinct rhythm.

Listen for a thin, trilling, rolling or purring note with a distinct rhythm: ‘p’trrr-up’ or ‘burrur-ur-eet’ and also ‘seeet’ call notes (Hume et al 2020). Look out for females excavating nest holes in old pine stumps and check among the large mixed flocks of woodland birds in winter. More information on how to collect records of breeding birds to the improved standard required by the RBBP can be found in the RBBP Best Practice Guidance Notes.

The general consensus amongst ornithologists most familiar with the data on Crested Tit is that the species population is not in any kind of decline, thankfully, and its re-admission onto the RBBP’s list is not in itself a cause for immediate concern. The problem lies more in the fact that much of our understanding of the species is based on anecdotal records. With enough birdwatchers submitting good quality data to local recorders and to BirdTrack, future conservationists will be able to develop the level of understanding needed to safeguard this truly iconic Scottish species. 

Shenaz Khimji, Visitor Experience Officer, Waterston House

 

REFERENCES

Fisher, Stuart, XC29048. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/29048.

Francis, I., and Eaton, M. (2021). ‘Crested Tits - how rare are they?’ 29 Jan. Available at: Crested Tits – how rare are they? – UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel (rbbp.org.uk) (Accessed: 23/03/2021).

Forrester, R., and Andrews, I. (2007), The Birds of Scotland. SOC, Aberlady.

Hume, R., Still, R., Swash, A., Harrop, H., Tipling., T. (2020), Britain’s Birds, An identification guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland. Second Edition. Princeton University Press.

Summer, R.W. (2018). Abernethy Forest: The History and Ecology of an Old Scottish Pinewood. RSPB, Sandy.

 

Photo: Crested Tit © Laurie Campbell

 

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