That’s blue tits to most of us. After a visit to the dentist in Machynlleth today for two fillings (with thanks to Tim Moody and nurse Sarah at Llys Einion Dental Surgery for overcoming the worst of my terrors), what I really needed to lift my spirits was the crazy antics of the blue tits on the bird feeders. In the tree any attempt to track their constant comings and goings on the seed feeder, swapping of positions and astounding acrobatics is absolutely eye-watering. It’s like a fractal in motion, pure chaos theory. My dentist was talking about the failure of physics to align General Relativity with the Standard Model of Quantum Mechanics. Perhaps the answer lies in the insanely complex interactions and dizzying gymnastics of the blue tits in my garden.
The blue tits have recently become very confident on the fat ball and mealworm bird feeders on the decking by my kitchen door. They were put there for the robin and a couple of sparrows, but the blue tits in particular have become addicts in recent weeks, and watching their antics so closely is remarkable, a sort of pared-down version of their performance in the cherry tree, as the following short video demonstrates:
When the blue tits are on the decking, the sparrows that are there much of the time are undeterred, but the robin takes off as soon as the lively gymnasts arrive. Everything, however, vanishes when the doves or pheasants arrive. In the bird world, size matters.
In his book How to be a bad birdwatcher Simon Barnes talks about the hierarchy of tits on bird feeders: “as you watch, you will notice that the big chaps can chase off the little chaps whenever they want to. If a blue tit wants a peanut, it has to wait for a great-tit-free minute, and then fly in and be quick and skilful. And by good fortune, or good evolution, quick and skilful is exactly what blue tits are.” That interplay between the tits is observable every day. The great tits take precedence over the blue tits and the blue tits take precedence over the coal tits. But the blue tits seem to win by sheer force of numbers. There are so many of them! Barnes points out that this highly competitive behaviour is restricted to the bird feeder – such competition does not take place elsewhere in their lives because in nature each has its own preferred niche, away from these challengers. I particularly love the symbiosis between those in the tree and those on the ground. As the tits chuck half of their food on the floor in amongst the roses, the pheasants and doves form a collection posse, scooping up all the rejects. Everyone wins.
The bird seed in the tree was empty and had to be refilled on my return. I will be in serious trouble with Housebird Central if I let my standards slip in this shocking way!