'Wigwam' nestboxes help a scarce bird to breed in South Yorkshire


Distinctively designed wigwam-style nestboxes made of reeds have helped the scarce Bearded Tit colonise the RSPB's Old Moor reserve in South Yorkshire.

The birds, actually a species of parrotbill with a 'pinging' call, have chosen to nest in the reedbeds of the reserve, which is near Barnsley, thanks to the hard work and imagination of the nature reserve's staff and volunteers. The site's extensive reedbeds, along with the addition of the special nestboxes and trays of grit, have provided the birds with the perfect breeding habitat.

The handmade 'wigwams' effectively replicate the natural nests of Bearded Tit in reedbeds (David Mower).

The reserve team created ideal nesting conditions for Bearded Tits by placing grit trays and specially designed ‘wigwam’ nestboxes around the reedbeds; the species swallows grit to help it grind up reed seeds as they are digested.

Bearded Tits are mainly found in the marshes of eastern and southern England, thought they also breed in West Yorkshire, Lancashire and on the Humber. The species has spent the winter at Old Moor in the past, this is the first time it has nested there. This is the first-ever record of this distinctive bird breeding in South Yorkshire. There have been confirmed sightings of two juvenile Bearded Tits near the reedbed paths, and the staff are encouraging visitors to come along to hopefully catch sight of these much sought-after birds.

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RSPB staff and volunteers help to piece together the ingeniously designed reed wigwams (Derek Smith).

Senior Site Manager Matthew Capper said: “This is an amazing development for the reserve and for the area. Historically, Bearded Tits have declined due to loss of the reedbeds they live in and they are also very susceptible to cold winters and wet summers. Our staff and volunteers have worked hard to ensure the reedbeds here at Old Moor are the perfect home for [the species]. We hope that this is the start of a long history of the birds breeding in the Dearne Valley.”

Bearded Tits are perhaps one of our most inappropriately named birds. The markings on the males resemble moustaches rather than beards, and they aren't related to the tit family. They are very sensitive to cold winters and in the winter of 2010 their population almost halved across the country, though they are now recovering.

Preparing the Bearded Tit nestboxes is a labour-intensive task, but the species has now bred at Old Moor for the first time ever (Derek Smith).

Written by: BirdGuides news team