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 began. Approximately a third of these are found on the Humber.
And numbers have gone up in the last two years as well. So you now have a much greater chance of seeing a bearded tit on the Humber 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 Blacktoft Sands 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.
Pete Short, RSPB Humber Reserve Sites Manager, said: "Bearded tits are a rare bird, which makes it all the more important that they are doing well. Over the last few years there has been a lot of hard work put in to create new habitat for them on the Humber, which has allowed the population to boom.
"Five years on from the winter population crash in 2010, numbers have really bounced back. When we surveyed the population in 2011 we found that on the Humber it was reduced to less than 40 pairs with about 15-25 of these at RSPB Blacktoft Sands. Five years on there are 250 pairs on the Humber. To see bearded tits back again in such good numbers is an amazing sight that many more people will now be able to enjoy."
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.
RSPB Blacktoft Sands is one of the best places to see bearded tits in Northern England.
"They are rare birds so you need to have patience and some luck to see them, but that's part of what makes them special", said Pete Short. "Best time of day is nearly always between 9am and 11am, best on calm and cold days when birds can often be seen along the reed edges of the lagoons and around the hides, often the best hides can be Marshland, Ousefleet, Townend and Singleton."