Strange Great Tit calls – invasion from the east?

Although some pairs of Great Tits breed annually on Helgoland, the majority of birds occurs during migration. Every few years, numbers are much larger than in other years, usually corresponding with large numbers in southern Sweden. However, most ringing recoveries are from the southern Baltic Sea coast. Most Tits (Great & Blue) arrive on Helgoland during easterly winds, often, when there is fog at the coast.

Since mid of October, large number of Great Tits are present on Helgoland, as often in invasion years. However, this autumn they are calling different. Most birds have a call, which is similar to a much discussed Chiffchaff-call, it sounds even a bit similar to Hume’s Warbler. It’s a “wieh-wieh” call, sometimes a single , usually a double and sometimes a triple-call, often included in a series of other calls. When you hear it the first time, you don’t think it’s a Great Tit, but more a strange Phylloscopus warbler! Now I am used to the call and adrenalin-level keeps low, but I never heard this call before, and now the majority of Great Tits utter this call!

Listen here to the calls (recorded by Matthias Feuersenger and Ralph Martin on Helgoland in October 2012).

http://www.club300.de/sounds/kohlmeise_90326.mp3

http://www.club300.de/sounds/kohlmeise_90487.mp3

http://www.club300.de/sounds/kohlmeise_83554.mp3

You can see some sonagrams and listen to some more samples here (although the text is mainly in German):

http://avesrares.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/freaky-great-tits/

When I discussed the calls with other birders, none of them claimed to have heard the call ever before, although it seems likely that a single bird would have been noticed as one of many variations of Great Tit calls. Now they seem to be all over Germany, from the south to the north.

Are we experiencing an influx of breeding areas which have not been source of invasions before, like the Bullfinches in 2004? This autumn there are many recoveries from the Baltic states, but there they are ringed on migration, so the origin of these birds must be further east or northeast. Searching on xeno-canto.com, Matthias Feuersenger found 2 calls from Russia which sounded similar. They were recorded at Cheboksary, Chuvashskaya Respublika, Russia (56,0° N, 47,3°E, 700 km east of Moskau).

http://www.xeno-canto.org/110451

http://www.xeno-canto.org/110453

So is this the origin of the birds? Are they all over Europe now or just in the central part? Will they appear now annually in Europe?

Even in common and well known species like Great Tits there are mysteries which are not yet solved!

Thanks Matthias & Ralph for allowing me to use your recordings and for discussions!

17 thoughts on “Strange Great Tit calls – invasion from the east?

  1. Uq

    Same here in Estonia. They are all over the place from east to the west and i can’t recall the same call from previous years. Visiting Finnish birders also say that they never hear such call at home.

    Reply
  2. William Velmala

    Thanks for bringing this issue up.

    This call was very common among the Great Tits at Jurmo Bird Observatory in SW Finland during our stay on the island between 25th Oct – 10th Nov. It was very Phylloscopus-like in the field to my ears, too. Likewise, I can’t recall ever hearing it before.

    I heard the single-call a few times, but the double-call was the commonest variant.

    Reply
  3. Wouter Faveyts

    The call is also being reported from Belgium. Observers have heard Great Tits with similar strange calls this past autumn. I was abroad for some weeks, and after reading the post above only yesterday, I already heard my first strangely calling tit this morning. There must be quite a few of these guys around.
    In Belgium, one of the heaviest invasions of Great Tit’s on record has unfolded this autumn, with birds with rings from Russia and the Baltic states having been retrapped.

    Reply
  4. Norman McCanch

    On Sunday 18th November I spent 20 minutes at my site in East Kent following an odd call around a patch of trees; it sounded just like a single call version of these calls and raised my hopes that it was an odd phyllosc. (It sounded a bit Hume’s warbler meets Yellowbrowed) The only plausible candidate for the source of the call was a bright male Great tit, on a day when there were significantly more Fieldfare and Redwing than of late.

    Reply
  5. jdiers

    I measured it in Google Earth – the avesrares-blog is not mine! Both measurements were made independently and as it’s now 2:1, it seems I was wrong … (I checked again – in fact it’s really 600 km).

    Reply
  6. Herman van der Meer

    Ran Schols made this recording at Koningsbosch (The Netherlands) on the 20th of October http://waarneming.nl/waarneming/view/72248600?lang=en
    and I made this recording at The Hague (The Netherlands) on the 27th of November, but that bird(?) is visiting my feeding station already since the last days of September.
    http://www.xeno-canto.org/113620

    BTW. The calls on the Russian recordings by Albert Lastukhin on Xeno Canto are very different.

    Reply
  7. Jochen Dierschke

    The calls from Russia are not identical, but it’s the most similar I could find in the web so far. The invasion definitely started earlier than recorded on Helgoland – large numbers og Great Tits moved through Falsterbo much earlier. On Helgoland the invasion started on 11th October – however, Tits only arrive on Helgoland during favourable winds and therefore this date is not the start of the invasion. An occurrence in the Netherlands in late September is therefore not completely unexpected.

    Reply
    1. Herman van der Meer

      At Falsterbo the peak of Blue Tits (and Great?) was in the first days of October and a small second peak on the 10th..
      In The Netherlands the invasion of Great Tit started for real on the 11th. See
      http://www.trektellen.nl/grafiek.asp?soort=377&telpostland=1&telpost=-2&Jaar=None&Jaar2=2012&my=mnd&eerstemaand=9&au=hr
      If we are talking about birds of eastern European (‘Russian’) origin, Falsterbo may be of little use here. Are the same calls noted in Sweden?

      Reply
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