Parus major major Linnaeus, 1758 ♂
Parus major major Linnaeus, 1758 ♂
Common names: Great Tit [En], Mésange charbonnière [Fr], Koolmees [Nl], Kohlmeise [De], Cinciallegra [It], Carbonero común [Es], Καλόγερος [Gr], Büyük Baştankara [Tu]
BUDAPEST ● Hungary
Description: The Great Tit is a distinctive bird, with a black head and neck, prominent white cheeks, olive upperparts and yellow underparts, with some variation amongst the numerous subspecies. In females and juveniles the mid-line stripe is narrower and sometimes discontinuous. The Great Tit is large for a tit at 12.5–14.0 cm (4.9–5.5 in) in length, and has a distinctive appearance that makes it easy to recognise. The nominate race P. major major has a bluish-black crown, black neck, throat, bib and head, and white cheeks and ear coverts. The breast is bright lemon-yellow and there is a broad black mid-line stripe running from the bib to vent. There is a dull white spot on the neck turning to greenish yellow on the upper nape. The rest of the nape and back are green tinged with olive. The wing-coverts are green, the rest of the wing is bluish-grey with a white-wing-bar. The tail is bluish grey with white outer tips. The plumage of the female is similar to that of the male except that the colours are overall duller; the bib is less intensely black, as is the line running down the belly, which is also narrower and sometimes broken. Young birds are like the female, except that they have dull olive-brown napes and necks, greyish rumps, and greyer tails, with less defined white tips.
Subspecies: There are currently 14 recognised subspecies of Great Tit:
• P. m. newtoni Prazák, 1894: British Isles. Like the nominate race but with a slightly longer bill, the mantle slightly deeper green, less white on the tail tips, ventral mid-line stripe broader on the belly.
• P. m. major Linnaeus, 1758: much of Europe, Asia Minor, northern and eastern Kazakhstan, southern Siberia and northern Mongolia, as far mid-Amur Valley.
• P. m. excelsus Buvry, 1857: northwestern Africa. Similar to the nominate race but much brighter green upperparts, bright yellow underparts and no (or very little) white on the tail.
• P. m. corsus Kleinschmidt, 1903: Portugal, southern Spain and Corsica. Resembles the nominate form but duller upperparts, less white in the tail and less yellow in the nape.
• P. m. mallorcae von Jordans, 1913: Balearic Islands. Like the nominate subspecies, but larger bill, greyer-blue upperparts and slightly paler underparts.
• P. m. ecki, von Jordans, 1970: Sardinia. Like P. m. mallorcae except with bluer upperparts and paler underparts.
• P. m. niethammeri von Jordans, 1970: Crete. Similar to P. m. aphrodite but upperparts duller and less green, and underparts pale yellow.
• P. m. aphrodite Madarász, 1901: southern Italy, southern Greece, Cyprus and the Aegean Islands. Darker, more olive-grey upperparts, and underparts are more yellow to pale cream.
• P. m. terrasanctae Hartert, 1910: Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Syria. Resembles the previous two subspecies but slightly paler upperparts.
• P. m. karelini Zarudny, 1910: southeastern Azerbaijan and northwestern Iran. Intermediate between the nominate and P. m. blandfordi, and lacks white on the tail.
• P. m. blandfordi Prazák, 1894: north central and southwestern Iran. Like the nominate but with greyer mantle and scapulars and pale yellow underparts.
• P. m. bokharensis Lichtenstein, 1823: southern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and far north of Iran and Afghanistan. Was, along with following two subspecies, once treated as separate species. The plumage is much greyer, pale creamy white to washed out grey underparts, a larger white cheep patch, a grey tail, wings, back and nape. It is also slightly smaller, with a smaller bill but longer tail.
• P. m. turkestanicus Zarundy & Loudon, 1905: east Kazakhstan to extreme north west China and west Mongolia. Like P. m. bokharensis but with a larger bill and darker upperparts.
• P. m. ferghanensis Buturlin, 1912: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Like P. m. bokharensis but with a smaller bill, darker grey on the flanks and a more yellow wash on the juvenile birds.
The nominate subspecies of the Great Tit is the most widespread, its range stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to the Amur Valley and from Scandinavia to the Middle East. The other subspecies have much more restricted distributions, four being restricted to islands and the remainder of the P. m. major subspecies representing former glacial refuge populations. The dominance of a single, morphologically uniform subspecies over such a large area suggests that the nominate race rapidly recolonised a large area after the last glacial epoch. This hypothesis is supported by genetic studies which suggest a geologically recent genetic bottleneck followed by a rapid population expansion.
Biology: It is generally resident, and most Great Tits do not migrate except in extremely harsh winters.
It is predominantly insectivorous in the summer, but will consume a wider range of food items in the winter months. Great Tits combine dietary versatility with a considerable amount of intelligence and the ability to solve problems with insight learning that is to solve a problem through insight rather than trial and error. The tits have also been recorded using tools, using a conifer needle in the bill to extract larvae from a hole in a tree.
Like all tits it is a cavity nester, usually nesting in a hole in a tree. The female lays around 12 eggs and incubates them alone, although both parents raise the chicks. In most years the pair will raise two broods. The incubation period is between 12 to 15 days.
Great Tits are monogamous breeders and establish breeding territories. These territories are established in late January and defence begins in late winter or early spring. If the pair divorces for some reason then the birds will disperse, with females travelling further than males to establish new territories. Although the Great Tit is socially monogamous, extra-pair copulations are frequent. One study in Germany found that 40% of nests contained some offspring fathered by parents other than the breeding male and that 8.5% of all chicks were the result of cuckoldry.
The colour of the male bird's breast has been shown to correlate with stronger sperm, and is one way that the male demonstrates his reproductive superiority to females. Higher levels of carotenoid increase the intensity of the yellow of the breast its colour, and also enable the sperm to better withstand the onslaught of free radicals. The width of the male's ventral stripe, which varies with individual, is selected for by females, with higher quality females apparently selecting males with wider stripes.
Habitat: It is most commonly found in open deciduous woodland, mixed forests and forest edges. In dense forests, including conifer forests it is usually found in forest clearings. In northern Siberia it is found in boreal taiga. In North Africa it prefers oak forests as well as stands of Atlas cedar and even palm groves. In the east of its range in Siberia, Mongolia and China it favours riverine willow and birch forest. Riverine woodlands of willows, poplars are among the habitats of the Turkestan group in central Asia, as well as low scrubland, oases; at higher altitudes it occupies habitats ranging from dense deciduous and coniferous forests to open areas with scattered trees.
The Great Tit has adapted well to human changes in the environment and is a common and familiar bird in urban parks and gardens.
Distribution: The Great Tit has a wide distribution across much of Eurasia. It is found across all of Europe except for Iceland and northern Scandinavia, including numerous Mediterranean islands. In North Africa it is found in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. It also occurs across the Middle East, and parts of central Asia from northern Iran and Afghanistan to Mongolia, as well as across northern Asia from the Urals as far east as northern China and the Amur Valley.
Gosler A., Clement P., 2007. Family Paridae (Tits and Chickadees). In del Hoyo J., Elliott A., Christie D.. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 662–709. ISBN 9788496553422.
Norris, K. J., 1990. Female choice and the evolution of the conspicuous plumage coloration of monogamous male great tits. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 26 (2): 129–138.
Harvey P. H., Greenwood, P. J. & Christopher M. P., 1979. Breeding area fidelity of Great Tits (Parus major). Journal of Animal Ecology 48 (1): 305–313. doi:10.2307/4115.
Strohbach S., Curio E., Bathen A., Epplen J. & Thomas L., 1998. Extrapair paternity in the great tit (Parus major): a test of the "good genes" hypothesis. Behavioural Ecology 9 (4): 388–396.
Dell'Amore C., 2010. Flashier Great Tit Birds Produce Stronger Sperm. National Geographic.
Wikipedia, Great Tit