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Marsh tit: the bird profiles

How do you identify a marsh tit? How do you tell it apart from the willow tit? And what does its song sound like? Read on for answers to all these questions and more.

Marsh tit perched on branch with red berries
The marsh tit is a songbird native to the UK [Photo: Erni/ Shutterstock.com]

The marsh tit (Poecile palustris) is a songbird species native to the UK and widespread across Europe. Although it is not as common as its well-known relatives, the great tit and the blue tit, marsh tit continues to be found in a wide variety of habitats, including parks and gardens.

Read on to find out how to identify a marsh tit and distinguish it from other species, when and where the little tit breeds and how you can support this native bird in your garden.

Marsh tit: key facts

SizeAbout 11-13cm
WeightAround 12g
Breeding season
April-May
Lifespan5 years on average
HabitatMature deciduous and mixed forests, parks and gardens
Food preferences
Insects, spiders, seeds and berries
Threats
Loss of habitat and food sources

How to recognise the marsh tit

The marsh tit is slightly smaller than the great tit and has plain brown back and wing plumage. The bird has a slightly lighter belly and white cheek patches that contrast with its glossy black cap. This cap reaches down to the bird’s eyes and matches its small black throat patch.

Marsh tit with brown wings, light belly, white cheeks, black cap and black throat patch
The marsh tit is easily recognised by its black cap and small throat patch [Photo: Arnau Soler/ Shutterstock.com]

Unfortunately, male, female and fully grown juvenile marsh tits are difficult to distinguish from one other by appearance alone.

How to tell the difference between a marsh tit and willow tit

The much less common willow tit looks very similar to the marsh tit. The easiest way to distinguish the two is by their song. There are few other differences, however, though they are not always easy to spot.

For example, the willow tit’s cap is not as intensely black as the marsh tit‘s, and its throat patch is slightly larger than that of the marsh tit. The willow tit also has a light patch on its wings, which the marsh tit does not.

willow tit with black cap and throat patch
The willow tit (Poecile montanus) looks very similar to the marsh tit [Photo: Nata Naumovec/ Shutterstock.com]

What does the marsh tit song sound like?

The song of the marsh tit consists of quick, monosyllabic, high-pitched notes: “Tjip-tjip-tjip-tjip-tjip”. The song of the willow tit, on the other hand, is more variable and melodic and usually consists of two-syllable phrases.

Apart from its song, the marsh tit also has a number of other bird calls. The most distinctive of which is a sharp “Pi-tscha!”, which is used by males outside of breeding season to mark territory.

What do marsh tit eggs look like?

Female marsh tits lay dull, off-white eggs with brown-red speckles. The clutch usually consists of seven to nine eggs, which are laid in a nest of moss, animal hair and feathers.

What does the marsh tit habitat look like?

Despite its name, the marsh tit does not live in marshes. Instead, it prefers deciduous and mixed woodland with lots of mature trees and undergrowth. The marsh tit can also be found in urban parks, cemeteries and gardens with mature trees.

Where do marsh tits build their nests?

Like most tits, the marsh tit is a cavity nester. It uses natural cavities several metres off the ground, such as tree hollows or old woodpecker nests, which it then adapts to its own needs, lining them with soft nesting material.

Marsh tit parent feeding marsh tit chick in tree cavity nest
Marsh tits are cavity nesting birds

When do marsh tits breed?

Marsh tits breed between April and May. They incubate their eggs for about 12 to 15 days, before feeding and caring for their hatchlings in the nest for a further two to three weeks.

After this, the young birds make their first attempts to fly. The parents continue to provide food to their chicks during this period, for another two weeks, though it is not uncommon for marsh tits to have a second brood after they have successfully reared their first.

Where do marsh tits spend winter?

Marsh tits are resident birds, so you can spot them in the UK year-round. They are very attached to their habitat and never move more than a few kilometres away from their breeding grounds. Even young marsh tits, who must look for their own territory, do not wander far and tend to settle in the immediate vicinity of their birthplace.

Marsh tit on snowy tree branch
The little marsh tits can also be seen in winter [Photo: adamikarl/ Shutterstock.com]

Help the marsh tit!

With the increasing loss of natural habitat, like mature deciduous and mixed forests, marsh tits are found ever more frequently near humans. Find out here how you can make the wild birds feel at home in your garden.

What do marsh tits eat?

Marsh tits have a very varied diet that changes with the seasons. In spring and summer, marsh tits mainly hunt insects and other small creatures. In late spring and winter, they eat a variety of seeds and nuts. From time to time, the tits also eat berries and fruits.

Marsh tit eating nuts from bird feeder
Marsh tits enjoy nuts and seeds at bird feeders [Photo: Julian Popov/ Shutterstock.com]

Which birdhouses are suitable for marsh tits?

For marsh tits, a classic birdhouse is suitable; the nesting box should be completely enclosed, bar a small entrance hole, between 26 and 28mm in diameter. Read our article on building birdhouses to find out how you can make a nesting box at home. We also have information on cleaning birdhouses and choosing the right materials and location.

How can I support marsh tits even more?

Since marsh tits mainly survive on insects in summer, alongside seeds and nuts, you can increase the songbirds’ natural food supply by designing a natural garden. A meadow with native and insect-friendly flowers, for example, attracts lots of little creatures that are not only great for the birds but also help pollinate your fruit and veg plants.

Try to avoid chemical sprays as much as possible. These can be dangerous not only for insects but also for birds and leave harmful substances in the soil.

Another uncommon tit species is the long-tailed tit. Get to know this native species in our bird profile.

Hannah

I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.
Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans