Strange Great Tit calls – invasion from the east?

Posted on November 14, 2012 by jdiers

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).

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!
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Mike Knoche

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11 Responses to Strange Great Tit calls – invasion from the east?

GIROUD Marc says:
November 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm

The same thing occur actually in East part of France (Jura mountains).
Reply
Uq says:
November 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm

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
William Velmala says:
November 15, 2012 at 8:44 am

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
Moe says:
November 17, 2012 at 1:09 am

Very interesting! I’ve never seen or heard a Great Tit before, although I saw my first Blue Tit in Malmo earlier this year!
Reply
Ruud van Beusekom says:
November 17, 2012 at 10:12 pm

In many parts of the Netherlands the same, unfamiliar call of Great Tits was noticed by experienced birders. On 6 November I published a so called ‘Natuurbericht’ on this phenomenon, which even caused some media attention on national radio. http://www.natuurbericht.nl/?id=9647&cat=vogels. In Dutch, but give it a try 😉
Reply
Wouter Faveyts says:
November 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm

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
Roland Graf says:
November 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm

The first publication in Germany you find on the link http://www.birdnet-cms.de/cms/front_content.php?client=1&lang=1&idcat=46&idart=2131 in the beginning of November 2012. A lot of day later Matthias & Ralph published their text. You can find bird with one, two or tree calls, but in the majority of cases two calls and it is characteristic, that the calls remember to an eastern Phylloscopus.
Reply
Ole Friis Larsen says:
November 19, 2012 at 9:46 am

It migth be interesting for readers of this report from Helgoland to know, that a great Tit/Kohlmeise ringed at Moscow was read at Gedser Bird Station in Denmark 7th Ocotober this year. You can find a text in English here:

http://gedserfuglestation.blogspot.dk/2012/10/moskva-musvit.html
Reply
Ole Friis Larsen says:
November 19, 2012 at 9:47 am

Sorry, 8th October …
Reply
Norman McCanch says:
November 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm

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
Gert van Maanen says:
November 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

Can you explain why you changed ‘about 600 km east of Moscow’ in your source (http://avesrares.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/freaky-great-tits-2) to ’700 km east of Moskau’, while the official distance between Moscow and Cheboksary seems to be 601.77 Kilometers (http://www.distance-calculator.co.uk/world-distances-cheboksary-to-moscow.htm ). I am just curious how numbers seem to get changed being copied accross internet.