The Great Tit, or Parus major, is a green and yellow bird, approximately 14cm in length and the largest of the tit species. Its most notable features are a glossy black head with white cheeks, plus a black stripe along the breast. Unusually for a bird species, there is very little difference between the plumage of the male and female. All these features help to distinguish the great tit from its smaller cousin, the blue tit. Both varieties are found all over the British Isles and Europe; notably in Eastern Europe, Russia and North Africa they approach something of 'pest' status, due to their large numbers. Great tits are most easily distinguished by their metallic song: tee-cher, tee-cher.
Great tits are relatively abundant (approximately 1.5m pairs thrive in the British Isles alone), and feed upon small insects, spiders, nuts, buds and fruit. A common sound in many a British autumn is the sound of great tits hammering on acorns in order to crack them open.
Great tits frequently nest in holes in walls and are often found in human-built nestboxes. Nests tend to be based on moss or grass and feature very few sticks contrary to many people's visualisation of nest design. The female produces clutches of 8 - 10 eggs twice a year, which hatch after a couple of weeks. The chicks remain dependent on their mother for barely a month before they leave the nest. Naturally, nests still containing eggs should be left untouched and protected from any predators in the vicinity. If you wish to encourage great tits into your garden, then a bird feeder is always well-received: sunflower seeds are apparently a great delicacy.
Great tits are very territorial and nearly always nest in pairs. The pairs may, however, often flock with other breeds of tits as a defence against predators (the sparrowhawk's main diet is birds of this size). Many tits migrate to warmer climates quite early in the year - they leave as early in September to return the following March.
Nature Grid was originally written for school pupils, but is highly recommended for finding out more about the birds and animals in your local environment.