British Wildlife Wiki
Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit -

The Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris) is a passerine bird in the tit It is small (around 12 cm long and weighing 12 g) with a black crown and nape, pale cheeks, brown back and greyish-brown wings and tail.

It can be found throughout temperate Europe and northern Asia and, despite its name, it occurs in a range of habitats including dry woodland. The Marsh Tit is omnivorous; its food includes caterpillars, spiders and seeds. It nests in tree holes, choosing existing hollows to enlarge, rather than excavating its own. A clutch of 5-9 eggs is laid.


Black cap and nape with a blue sheen visible at close quarters. The black 'bib' below the bill is rather small; the cheeks are white, turning dusky brown on the ear coverts. The upperparts, tail and wings are greyish-brown, with slightly paler fringes to the tertials. The underparts are off-white with a buff or brown tinge strongest on the flanks and undertail coverts. The bill is black and the legs dark grey. Juveniles are very similar to adults, but with a duller black cap and bib, more greyish upperparts and paler underparts; they moult into adult plumage by September.

The Marsh Tit weighs 12 g, is 11.5 to 12 cm long (from bill to tail) and the wingspan is 19 cm. Wing length ranges from 60–70 mm.


It is a widespread and common resident breeder throughout temperate Europe and northern Asia. It occurs from northern Spain north to south-eastern Scotland and east to western Russia, with a broad gap in western Asia and present again in eastern Asia from the Altai Mountains east to northern Japan and northern and western China.

This species is sedentary, making short post-breeding movements in most of its range, but in northern Europe some move southward in winter. However, Marsh Tits seem not to perform the occasional irruptions that other members of the tit family do.

Most Marsh Tits stay in their breeding territories year-round; presumably this is related to their food-storing strategy. Analysis of UK ringing data showed that of 108 recoveries (when a ringed bird is found dead or caught by another ringer), 85 % were less than 5 km from where the bird was originally caught, and only 1 % further than 20 km. Young birds join mixed roaming flocks; adults also join the flocks when they pass through, but do not stray from their territory.

Marsh Tits breed mostly in lowland areas, but can reach altitudes of up to 1,300 m. They prefer large areas of moist, broadleaved woodland, often oak or beech, though they can occupy wet alder woodland, riverside trees, parks and gardens or orchards.


In mixed winter tit flocks, seldom more than one or two Marsh Tits are present, and parties of this species alone are infrequent. Its performances in the bushes and branches are just as neat and agile as those of other tits; it often hangs upside down by one leg.

Like the other tits it has a large range of call notes; most typical is the explosive "pitchou" note, given when agitated, often leading into "pitchou-bee-bee-bee", which can sound like Willow Tit when not heard clearly. Unlike many other tits, however, the Marsh Tit has a well-defined song and a wide song repertoire. Individual birds can have more than five songs, which they use interchangeably. Some of the more common songs include a typical tit-like, ringing, "schip-schip-schip-schip-ship", a more liquid "tu-tu-tu-tu-tu" and sometimes a sweet "tyeu-tyeu-tyeu-tyeu-tyeu". The old Staffordshire name for the species, 'Saw Whetter', refers to the bird's scolding call.

Food and feeding[]

Mostly spiders and insects are eaten in spring and summer, but seeds - including those of the thistle - nuts and berries are taken in autumn and winter. Beechmast is the preferred food when it can be found. Marsh Tits often take seeds and fruit from the plant before taking them to eat elsewhere.

Marsh Tits collect and store large numbers of seeds. Hiding places for the seeds include on and in the ground, in leaf litter, in tree stumps, and under moss and lichen in trees. The hidden seeds are prone to being stolen, by other Marsh Tits or other species, so birds often fly from one site to another before deciding on a hiding place. They tend to retrieve the oldest items first, and memorise their location rather than searching randomly or checking systematically.


Marsh Tits are monogamous and often pair for life; one pair stayed together for six years.

The nest site is in a hole, usually in a tree but sometimes in a wall or in the ground. Nestboxes may be used. Old Willow Tit holes may be used and enlarged further. Marsh Tits do not usually excavate their own nest holes, though they may enlarge the hollow, carrying the chips to a distance before dropping them. The hole may be within a centimetres or two of the ground or high as 10 m. Inside the hole, a nest of moss is made and lined with hair and sometimes a few feathers; 20 cm of moss is used in damp holes, but much less in dry ones.

Between five and nine white and red-speckled eggs are laid late in April or in May, measuring 16 x 12 mm and weighing 1.2 g each (of which 6 % is shell). They are incubated by the female for 14–16 days; incubation begins before the clutch is complete, meaning that the chicks hatch over a period of around two days. She sits closely and gives a typical tit "hissing display" if disturbed. The male helps to feed and care for the young and brings nearly all the food for the first four days after hatching. The altricial, downy chicks fledge after 18–21 days. The fledglings are fed by their parents for a week and become independent after a further 1–7 days. The family stays together for between 11–15 days after the first flights of the juveniles. Second broods have been recorded, though they are extremely rare in Britain; most are replacement clutches.