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Meet the little trapeze artist of RSPB Lakenheath Fen - the striking bearded tit

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One of the most sought after bird species here at RSPB Lakenheath Fen is the charming and striking bearded tit. These little reedbed dwelling birds are similar in size to the great tits that regularly visit gardens. However, they have a longer tail than our more familiar friends. Males are brown with powder blue heads and a distinctive black moustache. Females are uniformly light brown and lack the male’s blue head.

The autumn and winter tends to be the best time of year to see these lovely little birds, as they start flocking up and feeding on the reedheads. They have a very distinctive feeding strategy, as they hang off of the reeds like little trapeze artists. However, they can be very difficult to find unless you apply some good old fashioned field craft. I therefore thought I would dedicate the rest of this article to providing a few tips on how to see these little birds.

One of the most important things to learn about bearded tits is their distinctive ‘pinging’ calls, which always remind me of listening to an old fashioned pinball machine from an amusement arcade. As you almost always hear them before you see them, it is useful to learn this call if you can. Once you have learnt this call, you will find that you will notice bearded tits more often on the reserve.

Matt Walton: Bearded tit (5020042)
Matt Walton: Bearded tit (5020042)

Another important thing to say about bearded tits is they are very weather dependent – they very rarely show themselves when it is wet and windy, as they tend to keep to the bottom of the reeds. Therefore, the best conditions to look for our little trapeze artist friends are on sunny and still days. From personal experience, I have had better luck seeing these little birds in the mornings rather than the afternoons. However, this may well just be me! If you are not a morning person, it is still definitely worth coming looking for bearded tits at this time of year.

If this article has inspired you to come looking for bearded tits on the reserve, the reserve is open at all times. The visitor centre and toilets are open daily 9am-5pm, apart from during the Christmas period (please read December’s article for our Christmas opening times). RSPB members visit for free. There is an entrance charge for non-members: Adults £3, students £2, children £1.50 (first child free per family group). Please ring 01842 863400 or email lakenheath@rspb.org.uk for more information.

We hope to see you on the reserve soon!