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Marsh and Willow Tit ID: Help Appreciated (1 Viewer)

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
When I first took these pictures, I assumed they were the same bird. On reflection, I'm not so sure.

I think the the first is a Marsh Tit; the second a Willow Tit. They were taken within minutes of one another and in a place with streams/huge old trees/very quiet, just off the coast, County Durham.

Thanks in advance,
Paul
 

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THE_FERN

Well-known member
I think most will agree the first is marsh tit. Apparently a small percentage of willow tits do have the white bill spot we can see, but generally it's quite a good mark. Other things like cheek colour, head shape, cap etc match in my view.

I think the other is too, but this one is more problematic. It's got a white bill spot... Pro-Willow might be the extended white cheek. However, I'm not sure we can judge this well in this photo. Other things probably fit marsh better in my opinion (e.g. head shape, small bib etc). Doubtless others will have different views...
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
I think most will agree the first is marsh tit. Apparently a small percentage of willow tits do have the white bill spot we can see, but generally it's quite a good mark. Other things like cheek colour, head shape, cap etc match in my view.

I think the other is too, but this one is more problematic. It's got a white bill spot... Pro-Willow might be the extended white cheek. However, I'm not sure we can judge this well in this photo. Other things probably fit marsh better in my opinion (e.g. head shape, small bib etc). Doubtless others will have different views...

Aye, when I looked at the second photo I thought a couple of contradictory features and went with the extended white cheek. That said, if the consensus is probably Marsh but not not 100% conclusive, then that's good enough for me.
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Both Marsh Tit for me.

Cheers

Thanks, Ken.

When I looked, I thought there was a noticeable difference in head shape and extended white cheek. Just out of interest, what are the defining features which make the second bird a Marsh Tit? The reason I ask is to my untutored eye there are features which lend towards Willow, so I'm trying to understand the most important features when discerning between the two.
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
I think most will agree the first is marsh tit. Apparently a small percentage of willow tits do have the white bill spot we can see, but generally it's quite a good mark. Other things like cheek colour, head shape, cap etc match in my view.

I think the other is too, but this one is more problematic. It's got a white bill spot... Pro-Willow might be the extended white cheek. However, I'm not sure we can judge this well in this photo. Other things probably fit marsh better in my opinion (e.g. head shape, small bib etc). Doubtless others will have different views...

Hi,

When you say: "white bill spot", is this the part of the bill closest to the eyes?
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Hi,

When you say: "white bill spot", is this the part of the bill closest to the eyes?
Hi Paul

It’s actually the cutting edge of the upper mandible rather than an actual spot as such, although it’s more obvious at the base. Not all Marsh Tit have this, also on photos and in the field, abrasion and wear can be mistaken for this feature. Lighting can also make this an unhelpful feature (as light reflects off black bills) unless the bird is in the hand. The same goes for the presence of a pale wing panel on Willow - light refecting off the edge of the secondaries rather than pale margin to the feathers.

I posted a good link on this thread recently to clear ID criteria which you may find helpful. The cheek remains a better criteria for separation in the field and is actually quite visible at a distance cf to the bill character.

Of course calls are good if you can learn them. And very loud - I had a Marsh Tit a few days ago on the bird feeders but I heard the call long before!

I get the general impression both are Marsh (the second looks general greyish brown at the neck sides to me, the ear coverts are over-exposed so may look whiter at the rear than they are, but it’s hard to be sure.
 
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PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Hi Paul

It's the base of the upper mandible (nearest the eyes). You can see it in this picture on The Opus article: https://www.birdforum.net/opus/Marsh_Tit#Identification (click on the image to enlarge it).

Hope this helps.

Hi Delia,

Many thanks. Believe it or not, I did not realise you have a section on the forum detailing the distinguishing features of birds, so I will make use of that in future. I can see the white spot on the second bird when I zoom in.

As a side note: the Willow Tit is described in your link as a "scruffy looking bird" when compared with the "dapper Marsh Tit". I would say the bird in the second picture is a little beauty so that would lend towards March Tit too!

Thanks,
Paul
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Hi Paul

It’s actually the cutting edge of the upper mandible rather than an actual spot as such, although it’s more obvious at the base. Not all Marsh Tit have this, also on photos and in the field, abrasion and wear can be mistaken for this feature. Lighting can also make this an unhelpful feature (as light reflects off black bills) unless the bird is in the hand. The same goes for the presence of a pale wing panel on Willow - light refecting off the edge of the secondaries rather than pale margin to the feathers.

I posted a good link on this thread recently to clear ID criteria which you may find helpful. The cheek remains a better criteria for separation in the field and is actually quite visible at a distance cf to the bill character.

Of course calls are good if you can learn them. And very loud - I had a Marsh Tit a few days ago on the bird feeders but I heard the call long before!

I get the general impression both are Marsh (the second looks general greyish brown at the neck sides to me, the ear coverts are over-exposed so may look whiter at the rear than they are, but it’s hard to be sure.

Hi Deb,

Thanks for the link. 'Seems experienced bird watchers/photographers don't always agree on the defining features, although I appreciate you posted a link to a concerted effort/study to separate the two, which I'm guessing the author is pretty authoratitive on the subject and as such the work carries a fair amount of weight.

I think I have a basis now to at least make a good go of ID, and I'll keep those two photos as a reference point for future and come back to the link/thread you posted (when I have a few more pictures of Marsh or Willow Tit).

I did read one comment that Willow Tits are almost extinct in Hampshire. That's not the case 'round here in County Durham: both Marsh and Willow Tits visit the same feeders at nature reserves in County Durham, although the pictures I posted weren't taken at nature reserves.

They're difficult little birds to get to grips with in terms of taking pictures. Within minutes of these two little birds I was presented with the unenviable task of goldcrest, nuthatch and tree creeper all occupying the same space. What a merry dance they led me between them!
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Hi Deb,

Thanks for the link. 'Seems experienced bird watchers/photographers don't always agree on the defining features, although I appreciate you posted a link to a concerted effort/study to separate the two, which I'm guessing the author is pretty authoratitive on the subject and as such the work carries a fair amount of weight
Actually Paul, it carries more weight than anyone here can give you and was more than a ‘concerted effort’, it has come out of extensive field studies and research. Dr Broughton was the one who first used the bill criteria for separating Marsh/Willow and is a well known authority on the ID features of both. People are only aware of this as a possible ID criteria because of his published work in the UK and more often than not, referring to his work though not necessarily attributing it him when they do.

ps I think you can rely on his criteria safely - whether other photographers etc agree or not.
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Actually Paul, it carries more weight than anyone here can give you and was more than a ‘concerted effort’, it has come out of extensive field studies and research. Dr Broughton was the one who first used the bill criteria for separating Marsh/Willow and is a well known authority on the ID features of both. People are only aware of this as a possible ID criteria because of his published work in the UK and more often than not, referring to his work though not necessarily attributing it him when they do.

ps I think you can rely on his criteria safely - whether other photographers etc agree or not.

Thanks Deb. I'll bear this is mind and come back to the study/research when I have a few more pictures. I didn't miss your point that according to this research the cheek remains the primary defining feature.
 

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