Top Menu

A bit of a tit : DIVERSIFLY BLOG #12

First things first: let’s just for a moment deal with the word ‘tit’. Since the nineteenth century, it has been used as a slang word for breast, but its origins come from early-fourteenth-century usage meaning ‘small’ or ‘a small creature’. Hope that clears things up.

So says Bill Bailey in his Remarkable Guide to British Birds.

By Nadia Kingsley aged 53 and a 1/2

Bill Bailey says of Blue Tits, in the same book:

My other memory of blue tits is of them pecking the foil off the tops of milk bottles..The cream would rise to the top of the bottle, which the wily blue tits somehow knew was a great nutritional treat.. Bonus Fact: Blue Tits lack the enzyme to process lactose in milk but are fine with cream, which contains less lactose and more fat… So they were even more cunning than I thought.”

How amazing is that! In fact My Reader’s Digest book of British Birds says that when it comes to problem solving the blue tit has few rivals: they have learnt to pull out a series of pegs or open matchbox drawers to get at food too. Apparently if they get inside a house or building they tear strips from wallpaper, books, newspapers. This may be ‘dissociated’ hunting activity – as tits commonly pull bark off trees when they are seeking insects – but if you are planning some home improvements this weekend, some blue tits in the room may be just what you need!


Here is an extract from a poem called Summer-Like by George Orwell, the full poem can be found here:

A blue-tit darts with a flash of wings, to feed
Where the coconut hangs on the pear tree over the well;
He digs at the meat like a tiny pickaxe tapping
With his needle-sharp beak as he clings to the swinging shell.

Then he runs up the trunk, sure-footed and sleek like a mouse,
And perches to sun himself; all his body and brain
Exult in the sudden sunlight, gladly believing
That the cold is over and summer is here again

And here is the start of a poem by Jill Munro – full poem here:

Blue Tits don’t Eat Boiled Carrots

The off-cuts from Christmas lunch
have been munched and pecked
to purgatory but six bright orange
planets lie in the iced grey dish,
unwanted by tiny half-frozen blue
tipped wingers flying unfettered
round the stuffing crumby bird-table.

The Great Tit is renowned for its song – or rather songS…It has perhaps the most extensive vocabulary of any British bird. The books say one of its songs sounds like Teach-er Teach-er; but I always hear er-teach, er-teach. And I don’t know if this is right but I seem to only hear that particular song late winter/early spring. I know that scientists have done research and shown that Great Tits have ‘regional accents’ – again my memory may be faulty but I think they listened to Cardiff Great Tits and Manchester Great Tits in particular…It has been estimated that in the three weeks of feeding their brood a pair can destroy 7,000 to 8,000 caterpillars and other insects and so it is suggested that a wise gardener would put up a nest box for the great Great Tit.

A Great Tit is one inch longer than a Blue Tit and has a thick dark strip down its yellow tummy


Here is my (Nadia Kingsley) poem in which a Great Tit sings one of its songs, which is published in Road Kill:

“ To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”

Above Ironbridge

where cast-iron pillars were dragged up

from fire, fumes, smoke, dust
to be formed into a resting place,

I look down to the now clear river Severn

breathe in aromas
of green and pollen

hear the er-teach er-teach er-teach er-teach and try to imagine

that hellish age below

a motorcycle
screams through gears

exposes road drone
flaunts pollution that’s been with us since Industrial birth

is getting worse
and I am reminded of Orwell’s words

which makes me swear
that nothing will change

unless I start to.


By Matt Sewell, from “Our Garden Birds”

Matt Sewell in his series of books on birds not only captures the essentials of each species endearingly and in a way I find incredibly useful for identification purposes (more than any official bird guide in fact) but he has a rather good way with words: He describes the Long-Tailed Tits – which are woodland shy birds but I’m sure some of you will have seen them in one of Britain’s towns or cities – as “tiny clouds in tracksuits” Beat that poets! They always seem to travel in groups to trees, to birdfeeders, one sometimes falls behind lingering – but soon rushes off after the rest

Or what about this description from Wonderland by Stephen Moss and Brett Westwood…

Then they appear, as if by magic: tiny little balls of fluff with that impossible long tail sticking out below like a child’s lollipop; perched for a moment on bare twigs, then setting off again with that characteristic bounding flight action that takes them just enough distance to reach the safety of the next tree or shrub… heading onwards in that constant search for food.

In Britain we also have the COAL Tit and the BEARDED Tit.

Here is a poem by John Clare – about the Long-tailed Tit, and the blog I found it on is here:

                                  Bumbarrel’s Nest                                                       

The oddling bush, close sheltered hedge new-plashed,
Of which spring’s early liking makes a guest
First with a shade of green though winter-dashed –
There, full as soon, bumbarrels make a nest
Of mosses grey with cobwebs closely tied
And warm and rich as feather-bed within,
With little hole on its contrary side
That pathway peepers may no knowledge win
Of what her little oval nest contains –
Ten eggs and often twelve, with dusts of red
Soft frittered – and full soon the little lanes
Screen the young crowd and hear the twitt’ring song
Of the old birds who call them to be fed
While down the hedge they hang and hide along. 

This Blog is part of the DIVERSIFLY project: For more details on the project go here

Here are some images I have found online:


And here are a few links with some more information :

British Garden Birds on the Blue Tit

BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) blog on Blue Tits

RSPB on the Great Tit

The Daily Mail on the meat eating killer that is the Great Tit

BBC Nature on the Long-tailed Tit


Nadia x

   This Blog is part of a series of Blogs that are part of the Fair Acre Press project –  DIVERSIFLY: everyday encounters with the birds of Britain’s towns and cities. For more details on the project go here

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.