Blue tits get foster parents

Blue tits get foster parents

Next box camera reveals an unusual family of birds in Sterling, Scotland

A nest-box camera at The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre in Aberfoyle, near Stirling in Scotland, uncovered an unusual family situation this summer, as a pair of great tits raised two blue tits alongside their own brood.

In early June, RSPB observers identified two of the eggs in the clutch as belonging to a different species. The eggs all hatched together, but despite being dwarfed by the much larger great tits, the blue tit chicks fought their way to the front at feeding time, and managed to thrive.

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This behaviour has been recorded previously, but it is rare to catch it on film. Disputes over nesting sites lead to the larger great tits displacing their smaller rivals, sometimes after they have already laid their eggs. Blue tits have also been recorded sneaking back in after the takeover and adding a few eggs of their own.

Scientists studying these shared nests have discovered that the fostered blue tits fledge believing they are great tits, and start their adult life using incorrect songs and calls, before eventually reverting back to being ‘proper’ blue tits.

It’s thought to be much less common for great tit chicks to be raised by blue tits, though this did occur in one of the BBC ‘Springwatch’ nestboxes in 2016. However, great tit chicks seem less adaptable to foster parenting, as they are stuck thinking they’re blue tits for their entire lives and are never able to mate successfully.

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Find out more at https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/caught-on-camera-identity-crisis-for-blue-tit-chicks-after-being-raised-by-the-wrong-parents/

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Steve Ott

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