There's more than one bearded character to celebrate this Christmas as one of the UK's most charismatic birds has reached its highest numbers in the last twenty years.
Bearded tits are beautiful, cinnamon brown birds, which are not as au fait with the cold as the other bearded chap everyone's talking about. A recent report on Rare Breeding Birds in the UK report shows that in 2014 there were more than 750 pairs breeding in the UK, the highest numbers since scientists started monitoring them. One of the best places to see them in the UK is RSPB Leighton Moss.
Numbers have gone up in the last two years as well. So you now have a much greater chance of seeing a bearded tit than catching a glimpse of the real Father Christmas at work on Christmas Eve.
Numbers have increased in the last five years and it is hoped that the work to improve and create more reedbed homes for them at sites like RSPB Leighton Moss will allow bearded tit numbers to continue to grow.
These record numbers are made even more remarkable by the population crash that occurred in 2010. Bearded tits are very sensitive to cold hard winters and this can have a knock on effect on their breeding success - and after a disastrously cold December five years ago the population dropped by nearly half to only 360 pairs in the UK.
The loss of reedbed habitat over the years has also contributed to previous declines as the birds where only been doing well in a few isolated areas for a few years. But recently, they have been spreading as they settle in new reedbeds and the 772 pairs recorded in 2014 are the highest numbers recorded since annual monitoring began in 1995.
Jarrod Sneyd, RSPB Leighton Moss Site Manager, said: "Bearded tits have continued to thrive here at Leighton Moss this year despite some challenging conditions for them last winter. In order to help them we place special "wigwam" nest boxes out around the reedbed. These bearded tit "wigwams" provide a dry place for bearded tits to lay their eggs in even if the water levels on the reserve are high.
"Earlier in the year we also recorded bearded tits at Silverdale Moss, one of our satellite reedbeds, for the first time. This suggests that the bearded tits are taking advantage of the new habitat at Silverdale Moss, which is becoming more and more favourable. We hope that this means we will see breeding pairs spreading to more sites in the near future."
Named after the dark facial markings on the males that resemble a moustache, bearded tits make their homes on well-managed reedbeds. The historic loss of this wetland habitat across the UK has resulted in the population becoming fragmented across isolated areas in the south west, eastern and northern parts of England.