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Marsh or willow tit? (UK) (1 Viewer)

Hi there!

I was wondering if anyone could lend some expertise in identifying this bird. I'm thinking marsh or willow tit - but I have heard separating the two can be difficult.

Spotted in a boggy old woodland - Askham Bog, York to be specific. Only got the one photo and I didn't catch the call unfortunately - I have read this is the easiest way to ID.

Any help would be appreciated!

Lee
 

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Ivydwg

Active member
United Kingdom
Hi!
I would go for willow tit due to the larger expanding bib and white checks. The cap is quite glossy although that is possibly a troublesome ID feature on a photo due to trick of light.
Pity you didn't hear a call but it is the deep winter so going to be quieter.

See what other people think!
 

Alexander Stöhr

Well-known member
Hello Lee,
agree with Ivydwg on Willow Tit:
with only one picture and a front view, its difficult, at least for me, but:
Its one of those id-challenges, where I got experience over the years (and many others here, too):

So it might be idable with confidence for that reason:
Its a Willow Tit for me:
-to extensive black bib reaching broad to the breast for most Marsh Tits
- gut feeling is, that head is large in relation to body and fits Willow better
-extremly difficult to judge in a front view, but cheek and ear coverts seems whitish and lacks dark comma-shaped mark present on some Marsh Tits. Yes, this area is clearly overexposed in this picture, but the most marked Marsh Tits, this should be visible.

Edit: I know the glossy cap is mentioned in every field guide, but I didnt found this useful in the field and so variable. This feature is useless for me, except maybe in the most glossy Marsh Tits
 
Thanks @Ivydwg and @Alexander Stöhr,

Really useful tips for how to ID them, definitely a tricky one - I'm sure this will get better the more I come across them!

Willow would also seem to concur with the habitat I spotted it in, great to get some more opinions!

Might have to get back there and keep an ear out for them too to confirm.

Thanks again,

Lee

Thanks again,

Lee
 

Muppit17

Well-known member
It's also lacking the white spot at the bill base which in the UK at least is diagnostic of marsh tit
Unfortunately this is not quite as diagnostic as is being reported here.

Firstly it is important to distinguish between white spots on the upper and lower mandibles.

Lower mandible white spots are rarely shown by both species.

Upper Mandible white spots are shown by 97% of Marsh Tits and not shown by 96% of Willow Tits. That still leaves a few birds that this is not clear cut with. I also would not separate on habitat. Certainly here in Hampshire, the same habitat has, in time, been used by both species, although it is fair to say that Willow Tit is nearly extinct here. Confusing also it is (was) a species of Oak and hazel coppice on the chalk uplands - but this is atypical for most populations in the UK.

Despite saying this I think this one does look like a WT - typically bull necked and slim bodied, but I only ID them on call these days.
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
Unfortunately this is not quite as diagnostic as is being reported here.

Firstly it is important to distinguish between white spots on the upper and lower mandibles.

Lower mandible white spots are rarely shown by both species.

Upper Mandible white spots are shown by 97% of Marsh Tits and not shown by 96% of Willow Tits. That still leaves a few birds that this is not clear cut with. I also would not separate on habitat. Certainly here in Hampshire, the same habitat has, in time, been used by both species, although it is fair to say that Willow Tit is nearly extinct here. Confusing also it is (was) a species of Oak and hazel coppice on the chalk uplands - but this is atypical for most populations in the UK.

Despite saying this I think this one does look like a WT - typically bull necked and slim bodied, but I only ID them on call these days.
Do we know if the bill spot feature holds for other (non-UK) races?
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
The figures Muppit quotes on the ‘pale spot’ feature (perhaps more strictly speaking, whitish mark(s) (rather than a clear cut ‘spot’) on the proximal end of the upper mandible in Marsh) and its reliability are from Dr Richard Broughton’s seminal work on Willow/Marsh Tit identification which have now become widely known but actually remains a good criteria when taken with a conglomerate of other features.

see here

summary


These can be reliably separated in the field (using a range of features together, including the presence or absence of white marks on the upper mandible) and their gizz is noticeably different but it requires good views in reasonable light.

On this one image (and knowledge of habitat) all you can say is that it ticks some boxes for Willow Tit.
 
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Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Do we know if the bill spot feature holds for other (non-UK) races?

The ‘bill spot’ feature is not imo so crucial in continental races which are easier to separate on other features than sp found in the British Isles. There’s only one proven ssp of Willow Tit occurring in the UK afaik, kleinschmidti and this is smaller than continental races as well as darker so harder to separate from the only (proven?) British Isles ssp of Marsh Tit, P.p.dresseri . (NB I’m using Svensson’s ID Guide to E.Passerines, 4th ed 1992, so apologies if my taxonomic references and accepted ranges are out of date (the morphological similarity in colour tones and size of Marsh v Willow in the British Isles (hence the particular difficulty in separating them, remain a valid point though). The morphological differences between Marsh Tit/Willow Tit on the continent are more apparent so separation of species is a bit more straight forward.

Re. Continental birds - As noted in Svensson p235, DeWolf first proposed in 1987 https://parus.tripod.com/zz/parus.htm that “There is frequently a narrow pale margin along the cutting edge on the closed bill (most prominently proximally), not to be found in P. montanus ” . At the time, this needed further confirmation. Dr Richard Broughton’s seminal research in the UK in 2008 included skins from other European races and confirmed the pale cutting edge to the upper mandible as a good separation feature.

Btw Just to add - The pale cutting edge to the upper mandible is probably more useful in the hand or on good photos to ensure it is not scuff marks or light falling on the bill. Only about 2% of Willow Tits were found to have this feature (with about 2.5% showing scuff/wear marks on one side of the bill) so even on it’s own, has a high degree of reliability if interpreted correctly and especially if included with the range of other separation criteria features - the cheek pattern probably remains the most visibly reliable separation criteria in the field as Alex mentions above - with Marsh having smaller white area on the cheek, bordered at the ear coverts by a darker demarcation line from white to grey/brown. Willow has no demarcation line so gives the gizz of having a larger whiter face than Marsh.

 
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