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Long-tailed Tit
Terra incognita
Long-tailed Tit

Streaked, striped, white or whitish: how to distinguish the phenotypes of the Long-tailed Tit?

The Long-tailed Tit is a widespread species that can be observed all year round in Switzerland. The birds usually belong to the subspecies europaeus, which is distinguished by a broad dark band on the sides of the head. Long-tailed Tits with the characteristics of the white-headed subspecies caudatus are observed in small numbers between the end of October and mid-April in Switzerland, especially since the winter invasion of 2010/2011, during which 325 individuals were registered by the Swiss Rarities Committee SRC. Since this influx, sightings have become more regular, so that the subspecies caudatus is no longer considered by the SRC. However, there are many intermediate forms between the two subspecies and in the current identification books the problem of identification of Long-tailed Tits with white heads is not sufficiently addressed. Many observers are therefore unaware that head colour alone is not sufficient to identify the subspecies caudatus. In this article adapted from ornitho.de we would like to give you an overview of the subject, to help you recognise and document the different phenotypes.

Four types can be distinguished (see photos below):

  1. Type EE: europaeus with striped head (as indicated in the identification books), the usual type in Switzerland
  2. Type EC: europaeus-like birds (e.g. with the beginning of a lateral band; EC means: more europaeus-like than caudatus-like)
  3. Type CE: caudatus-like birds (e.g. white-headed individuals with just a few dark feathers on the head)
  4. Type caudatus (= CC): phenotypically caudatus with a pure white head etc. (details on identification below)

Types 1 to 3 are reported under "Long-tailed Tit" with the different types indicated in the remarks (e.g. "flock composed of 8x type EE, 2x type CE"). Type 4 is the only one that can be reported under "Long-tailed Tit (A. c. caudatus)".

Important: it is of course not necessary to assign a type to every Long-tailed Tit observed. If no assignment is possible, leave it blank in the remarks.

Which birds belong to the "Type caudatus"?

According to the current literature, Long-tailed Tits of the subspecies caudatus should have the following characteristics:

  • Pure white head, i.e. "white as snow",
  • Clean edge between the black nape and the back of the white head,
  • No collar on the breast (nor the outline of a collar either),
  • White underparts with equally white or only light pink flanks,
  • Tertials white or at least largely bordered with white.

Please only report under caudatus the absolutely typical individuals!

Many Long-tailed Tits that appear to be white-headed at first glance actually have, on close inspection, dark areas on their heads or grey speckles in the parotid and nape areas (i.e. they are CE type). In the field, these features are not always easy to see in these small, ever-moving birds. Therefore, when pale-headed individuals are present, one should always look for the other criteria described above. Ideally, you should photograph them or describe the details in the remarks.

If you are not sure of the identification, please send your photos to obs@ornitho.ch.

In order to recognise the different types of Long-tailed Tits observed, ornitho.de selected some photos:

Type EE:

Schwanzmeise Typ EE https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/EEFSchauf.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/EEIWaschkies.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/EETKirchen.jpg

Type EC:

https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/ECLSielmann.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/ECMRathgeber.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/ECFSchauf.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/ECUZinnecker-Wiegand.jpg

Type CE:

Typ CE https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/CEKGauger1.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/CECMoning.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/CEHWinkler2.jpg

Type "caudatus":

https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/CCSKlasan.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/CCRMartin.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/CCMPutze.jpg https://cdnfiles2.biolovision.net/www.ornitho.de/userfiles/infoblaetter/Anleitungen/Schwanzmeisen/CCTSacher.jpg

The following articles are very useful for identification and other general information on the subspecies of the Long-tailed Tit:


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