We apologise for wrongly identifying this little bird. We thought it was a blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) but our expert has identified it as a marsh tit (Poecile palustris). This is the first sighting of a marsh tit in the park: a new name for our species lists.

A black cap does not have a black bib beneath its chin like this bird does but marsh tits and willow tits (Poecile montanus) do. Marsh and willow tits are so similar that until the 1890s they were believed to be a single species but there is a distinguishing feature: marsh tits have a light spot on the upper part of their beak.



So this is a marsh tit foraging for insects and hogweed seeds on the edge of the copse in Sheepfield. On the side of its neck, it is harbouring a large and engorged tick.

There are several species of tick in Britain that parasitise birds exclusively, but there are many more generalist species, with more inclusive habits, that will feed on a variety of mammals as well as birds. It is impossible to tell what kind of tick this is but it is probably female: in most species the adult male is much smaller and in some he does not feed at all. An adult female tick will feed on her host for several days and then drop to the ground to lay eggs.



On birds, ticks are usually confined to the head and neck where sharp, preening beaks can’t reach them. If they are attached in large numbers, blood loss can be a problem, but otherwise the bird seems unaffected and the tick soon detaches. This little marsh tit looks fine, hunting  in the hogweed seedheads, but ticks are disease vectors; they carry many organisms that, transferred into the host’s bloodstream, can cause disease.

Our park is exactly right for marsh tits. Despite their name their habitat of choice is broad-leaved woodland and coppice, parks and gardens. Let’s hope this one raised a brood of chicks in the park this year and will survive to  raise more next year.


Black cap

Photographs: DKG

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