This blog is all about showcasing the wonderful diversity of animal species, by shining the spotlight on one particular animal every week and ranking them in some kind of knock-off zoological Top Trumps fashion. To kick off the blog and Species SpOtlight post series, it makes sense to start with a feature on my PhD study species. So, here I’d like to introduce you all to the great tit, the largest, and second feistiest (the blue tit takes the crown here) tit species in the United Kingdom!
Binomial Name: Parus major
Common Name: Great Tit
Taxonomy: Animalia – Chordata – Aves – Passeriformes – Paridae – Parus – P. major
Size: Weight 16-20 g, Length 12.5-14.0 cm
Lifespan: 2-3 years
Reproduction: 5-11 eggs per clutch, 1-2 clutches per year. Female incubates the eggs, and then both parents usually work together to rear chicks from hatching to fledging!
Beauty: With a glossy black head, bright white cheeks and sunshine yellow belly feathers, the great tit is one of the most handsome passerines around. Am I biased? Possibly. Great tits are truly stunning birds, and therefore IMO they deserve a fairly high score in this category.
Animal Beauty Pageant Score: 80/100
Deadliness: Great tits mostly chow down on insects, nuts and seeds. However, there have been some recorded cases of tits scavenging on carcasses left by predators, while other food is scarce. These seemingly innocent birds have even been documented killing small bats and then eating their brains (Estók et al., 2010). Great tits are also often aggressive towards other passerines, forcefully fighting off other smaller bird species at feeders. For their size, great tits are powerful and can do quite some damage using their beaks – if you happen to be a small bird or a bat, that is.
Deadliness Score: 60/100
Great tits scavenging on a wolf kill [Credit: Nadleśnictwo Baligród, Poland]
Potential for World Domination: Great tits are currently listed on the IUCN database as Least Concern, with a rough estimate of the world population standing at 433,300,000-703,300,000 mature individuals. The species is widespread in Europe and its range is large, stretching throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Great tits can be found in a range of habitats from urban parks to oak woodlands and scrubland, making it a fairly versatile species.
World Domination Score: 30/100
Relationship with Humans: This species has adapted fairly well to life in urban environments and is commonly sighted in cities like Sheffield, UK, where the great tit population has been estimated to be upwards of 17,000 individuals (Fuller et al., 2009). Still, reproductive success for great tits raising their young in the city is often lower than those living in forest environments. There is still much to be discovered about the impacts of urban factors such as light pollution, noise, environmental toxins and habitat fragmentation on the health of great tits that live in and share our cities.
“Getting Along With Homo sapiens” Score: 75/100
Fame Factor: Great tits are important in the scientific field of ornithology (bird studies). Due to their ubiquitousness and willingness to nest in nest boxes, great tits make ideal models for ecological field studies. In fact, from 1969 to 2002, an estimated 1,349 scientific articles were published relating to great tits (Kvist et al., 2003)! Moreover, in the UK the great tit is one of the most common garden birds sighted, so as far as garden birds go, great tits are pretty darn famous.
Fame Factor Score: 90/100
Total Species Spotlight Score: 335/500
Estók, P., Zsebők, S. & Siemers, B. M. 2010. Great tits search for, capture, kill and eat hibernating bats. Biology Letters, (6), 59-62.
Fuller RA, Tratalos J, Gaston KJ (2009). “How many birds are there in a city of half a million people?”. Diversity and Distributions. 15 (2): 328–337.
Kvist, Laura; Martens, Jochen; Higuchi, Hiroyoshi; Nazarenko, Alexander A; Valchuk, Olga P.; Orell, Markku (2003). “Evolution and genetic structure of the great tit (Parus major) complex”. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 270 (1523): 1447–1454.