Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus, collecting insects from hawthorn bush in Durham

Long-tailed tit nests

As well as being fluffy, cute and sometimes rather tame, long-tailed tits have a fascinating family life.

Building their nest

The male and female work together to build their nest, taking nearly three weeks if it's early in the season, or doing a rush job of less than a week, if it's getting late.

The nest is shaped rather like a bottle, usually with a roof and an entrance hole near the top. They construct it in a bush or in the fork of a tree, from moss, camouflaged with lichen with interwoven cobwebs and sometimes bits of paper stuck on the outside.

To make the inside cosy for the eggs and chicks, a feather lining is added. They need a lot of feathers - as many as 1,500! Where do they find that many? Long-tailed tits pick up stray feathers along the way, or they may visit the bodies of dead birds to 'recycle' their feathers!

Long tailed tit in pine tree

Long-tailed tit chicks

The female incubates a clutch of between 8-12 and eggs (though sometimes as many as 15). Once they hatch, things really start to get crowded in there.

It could be a problem, but they plan for their growing family by making sure the entrance hole and the nest itself are stretchy!

Other long-tailed tits may help to feed the chicks. The 'helpers' are mostly birds which have lost their own nest, and are siblings of the nest-owners. The extra help really does work - the survival rate of the young improves.

After 14-18 days in the nest, the young long-tailed tits are ready and the nest is nearly at breaking point. They make their first flights and join their parents in the outside world. Family life doesn't stop once they're independent. Long-tailed tits are very social birds. In winter, they go around together in search of food, with the flocks made up of parents and offspring, plus the nest helpers.

Long-tailed tit feeding on mealworm and suet gourmet mix on mesh tray on green pole.