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Coconuts for Blue Tits

I OFTEN see a blue tit on the lawn attack- ing a crust of bread that the starlings and sparrows have left, but to see these birds to the best advantage the food placed for them should be dangling on a piece of string. The string should be thick enough to allow the birds to close their claws round it in comfort; ordinary parcel string about the thickness of blind cord, or, say, an eighth of an inch, is most suitable.

Blue tits will feed eagerly on other things besides suet. A coconut split open in halves will always attract them. When you watch how greedily these charming birds come one after the other to feed on coconut, you wonder if by any chance you may be ruining their digestion. My chief objection to this kind of food is that it becomes very mouldy and nasty-looking after a few weeks, but the birds do not seem to mind, they continue to eat it just the same. Brazil Nuts and Almonds

I have seen the kernels of brazil nuts and almonds threaded on a piece of string like beads for the blue tits. I know a woman living by herself who complained that a neighbour in the next road had enticed away my blue tits by providing them with fancy food like pine kernels and almonds. She was quite indignant about it.

However, these birds are really just as easily pleased with plain food, such as a meaty bone or part of a stale brown loaf.

Dangled on Strings

Whatever is provided should be dangled on strings. When food is placed on the ground, or on a table or board, it invariably happens that the greedy starlings and sparrows get the most, while more interesting birds are too shy or frightened to take part in what is often a scramble.

It is safe to say that while the tits can easily perch on the string and feed on food dangling in the air, none of the othor garden birds, except perhaps an odd individual in a thousand, ever manages to master the knack of doing so.

About seven or eight species of birds belong to the titmouse family, but the most regular visitors to our gardens are the blue tits and the great tits. The great tit is a very handsome bird, but is inclined to bully its smaller cousins, and in any case is a bird more to be admired than to make friends with. It will, however, come at intervals to the suet or other food, and the moment it approaches, the smaller blue tit flics off and waits until the other departs again, which is always soon. The Great Tit

The great tit will occasionally use a nesting box such as I have described. In fact, I have known a blue tit to build a nest in one of my boxes and lay several eggs, only to be turned out by a great tit, which added a number of its own eggs to the clutch and sat on the lot.

Blue tits are much more numerous than great tits in the average garden which these birds frequent; and are greater favourites. The disposition of the blue tit is quite different from that of the robin.

It never comes up to your feet in the way a robin does. It flies away when any one approaches it in the open. Yet it is such a perky, lively bird, and displays such agility, that one cannot holp liking it in a special way. If it is not so friendly towards human beings as the robin, it is much more entertaining to watch.

In connection with nesting-boxes for blue tits, I ought to mention that the old nest should be taken out and thrown away at the close of the nesting season, and the interior should be dusted or brushed out by February in readiness for another nesting season. Homes that Never Vary

These birds always prepare their homes in the same way. The entire floor of the box is covered with a level pad of greenish moss to a depth of about two inches. The nest is a very pretty one, formed of soft strands of dry grasses, with a thick lining of little pieces of knitting wool, horse hair, soft feathers, and sometimes human hair.

I was once a member of a local natural history society, of which the Earl of Lytton was the president. He is a keen naturalist, and I had the pleasure of reading a manuscript nature diary in which he had carefully recorded observations on bird life made by himself in the gardens and grounds of Knebworth House. Between Shutter and Window Frame QEVERAL members of the Society men- tioned were permitted to ramble freely in the park, and for a summer or two also had the use of a little cottage, which stood at the edge of Knebworth great wood, where the opportunities of studying and observing bird life were almost unlimited.

I remember going to the cottage with one or two other nature lovers for a weekend, and finding that a pair of blue tits had built their nest, which already contained several eggs, between the shutter the window frame.

The window shutter was kept closed during the time the cottage was unoccupied, and the blue tits had taken the opportunity, while the place was unoccupied, to build the nest. Thore was a hole at the top of the shutter, which allowed them to get behind it and drop down to the window-sill, on which the nest was built.

Naturally, we were delighted to have a nest practically inside the house, although it was very inconvenient not to be able to open the shutter, as it meant that the room was kept in comparative darkness.

The Crack in the Wall

THE nest was so wedged in between the A shutter and the window frame that to open the shutter would have meant the nest falling into the garden. However, the nest and its contents were left unmolested, and in due course the ten young ones were safely reared, and somehow or other they finally managed to flutter and scramble up to the hole at the top of the shutter and fly out into the garden with their parents.

The following year a pair of blue tits had their nest under the roof of the same cottage. Just where the slates were joined to the brick wall of one of the gables a piece of plaster had fallen away and through the hole thus formed the parent birds went in and out. Through a Knot-hole

On one occasion I was resting beside a roadside barn in one of the lovely wooded valleys in east Cornwall when a blue tit passed swiftly close to my head and, without a pause, disappeared through the closed door of the barn! The birds movement and disappearance were so startling that I investigated, and found that the bird had entered the barn through a knot-hole in the wooden door. A moment later it popped out again, but soon returned. Evidently it had a nest and young ones inside.

The blue tit, as its name implies, is easily identified by the blue in its plumage. It is a much smaller bird than the robin, but is larger than a wren.

The top of its head is a pale blue colour. Under the blue there is a line of white, then a black band from the beak and past the eye to the neck. Below this black line the lower parts of the head are white, and there is a blue band round the neck. The feathers in the wings and tail are blue, and the under parts of the body yellow. There is no mistaking the blue tit for any other bird; it is very distinctive. Colour of the Eggs IN the nests of blue tits which I have observed in my garden, there have generally been ten or eleven eggs. The eggs are quite tiny. The general colour is white with fine pinkish spots, which give them a delicate coral-like tint.

I have often noticed that the hen bird has slightly covered the earliest eggs with soft downy feathers on leaving the nest. Many a time on looking into a nesting-box and finding the birds out I have had to lift a tiny feather or two in order to see and count the eggs. The hen bird sits very closely when once incubation is in progress.

Inspect with Discretion

I have never known a blue tit to rise or attempt to leave the nesting-box when quietly looked at by myself. On the contrary, the bird always looks up boldly at the intruder, and many a time it has made a little hiss right in my face!

It is very interesting to make observations on a blue tits nest, and when it is built in a nesting-box there is no difficulty in doing so. Looking back in my own diaries, I find the following notes concerning a typical nest in my garden:

April 8

Blue tits complete the building of their nest in one of the nesting-boxes.

April 17

First two eggs in blue tits nest. April 20

The blue tit is laying an egg each day. April 23

There are now eight eggs in the blue tits nest, but the hen bird is not sitting yet. May 2

Eleven eggs in the blue tits nest. The hen bird is sitting. May 16

Eight eggs hatched. There seem to be three addled eggs. June 3

The eight young blue tits left the nesting-box to-day. Anyone who has seen a nest containing eight to ten young blue tits nearly a fortnight old will not forget it. They make a lovely picture at the bottom of the nesting-box, especially if the sun happens to be shining. They look such knowing, intelligent birds and are so full of life and so lovely in their soft delicate plumage, that one cannot help liking them. The Long-tailed Titmouse During the time I was observing the blue tits nest I saw a blue tit with a broken leg feeding on one of the pieces of suet I had hung out. It is a very touching sight to see a lively bird disabled, or at least terribly handicapped, in this way, and reduced to hanging upside down by one foot to the food it is eating. One occasionally sees injured birds, and it is remarkable how brave and active they are, but naturally a bird with only one serviceable leg or a useless wing is at a great disadvantage, even if it is not suffering actual pain.

In the garden of the cottage where the blue tits had a nest behind the window shutter, I found in the hedge the nest of a long-tailed titmouse. This bird is easily distinguished by its long tail and its pinkish colouring. The top of its head is greyish-white. It is not an habitual visitor to gardens, like the great tit and the blue tit, but I often see it in country lanes and hedgerows, especially in winter.

The little coal-tit, which has a black head and throat and white cheeks, is also more of a woodland than a garden bird, although in winter it is seen in gardens more often than the long-tailed tit. However, the particular long-tailed tits nest which I have referred to, was built in a garden hedge. Feathers as a Nest-lining IPHE nest of this bird is most elaborate and beautifully constructed, shaped like an egg on end, with an entrance hole towards the top. Country people have given the long-tailed tit the nickname of Feather-poke on account of the extraordinary liberal manner in which it uses selected feathers as a lining for the nest. It is no exaggeration to say that several hundreds of feathers are frequently used for the purpose.

One likeable thing about the blue tits is their habit of keeping together in family parties. I have seen half a dozen or more of them flitting about in the hedges, and chattering softly to each other in the most good-natured manner, even as late as the middle of winter. Although so many of these birds come to gardens when they are fed, there are considerable numbers scattered over the rural districts, in the lanes and along the edges of the woodlands. Their natural haunts appear to be the hedges, where they are constantly on the move searching for insects. These delightful and welcome birds are apparently increasing in numbers.

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