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Coal Tit vs Great Tit: Factoids & Other Tit-Related Tidbits

Last Updated on: April 10, 2024

Tits are a pretty common bird species. If you live in Europe, Asia, or Africa, you’ve probably already seen them around woodlands or bird feeders.

You might mistake these birds for one species as they tend to come in flocks. Coal Tits and Great Tits are particularly confusing to tell apart.

Well…

Fortunately, these birds have several distinctions that you can easily spot with careful observation.

So, please read ahead to learn about the differences between Coal Tit vs. Great Tit.

Main Differences Between Coal Tit Vs. Great Tit

  • The Coal Tit has a white patch on the nape, whereas the Great Tit doesn’t.
  • The Coal Tit has cream-colored underparts, whereas the Great Tit has yellow underparts with a vertical black stripe.
  • The Coal Tit can be found around coniferous trees, whereas the Great Tit tends to avoid them.
  • The Coal Tit doesn’t have sexual dimorphism, whereas the Great Tit does.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Coal Tit

Appearance

Measurements:

  • Average length: 11.5 cm
  • Average wingspan: 19 cm
  • Average weight: 9 g

The Coal Tit has a black cap, neck, and throat, contrasted by its distinctive white cheeks and the white spot on the nape. The rest of its upperparts have dullish grey plumage, with each wing having two white wing bars.

Meanwhile, its breast is white, and the rest of its underparts are cream-colored with a slight rufous shade. Apart from these features, this energetic and small bird has a short tail, dark brown eyes, dark grey legs, feet, and bill.

Both male and female coal tits look similar. Juveniles are similar to the typical adult but have browner upperparts and a yellow wash on the cheeks, nape, wing bars, and underparts.

Habitat And Behavior

Coal Tits are widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and certain parts of North Africa. They’re usually permanent residents in their range but may make local movements during harsh weather. Only the Siberian Coal Tits regularly migrate.

With that in mind, you can find them across the UK year-round, with a few exceptions in Scotland. You can even see these birds passing by country borders.

Coal Tits are mainly found in humid coniferous woodland, but they’re also well-adapted around parks, gardens, and urban areas. These social birds are often in mixed flocks with other tits outside their breeding season, making them harder to distinguish.

They’re also active during the day, where you can hear their high-pitched Coal Tit song of “if-he, if-he, if-he.” This is similar to a Great Tit song, which we’ll discuss later.

Diet

Coal Tits often forage in flocks. These active feeders typically eat insects, beech mast, seeds, and nuts. However, they prefer eating conifer seeds, so they’re usually around conifer trees.

You can easily attract Coal Tits to your backyard with a bird feeder, mainly containing sunflower seeds and hearts. They may even take some food away to save it for later.

You can also install nest boxes around, preferably with small entrance holes, so they don’t risk eviction from larger birds.

Interesting Facts

  • The Coal Tit has low fat reserves compared to other tits. This species is the only member of the tit family that stores food in case of a shortage.
  • The Coal Tit has many geographical variations. For example, the Asian subspecies (P. a. melanolophus) has a black crest, the British subspecies (P. a. Britannicus) has an olive hue on the back, and the Irish subspecies (P. a. hibernicus) has sulfur-yellow cheeks, breast, and belly.

Great Tit (Parus major)

Great Tit

Appearance

Measurements:

  • Average length: 14 cm
  • Average wingspan: 24 cm
  • Average weight: 18 g

Both the Coal Tit and Great Tit have a black and white head, except the latter lacks the white spot on the nape. Furthermore, Great Tits have olive-green backs and blue-grey tails and wings, paired with a conspicuous white wing bar.

What sets this species further apart is the underparts. The Great Tit has a yellow plumage on the undersides, contrasted by a distinctive black stripe from the throat to the belly. Other features of this woodland bird include its dark brown eyes, black bill, and blue-grey legs and feet.

Finally, females are typically duller than males, and they have a thinner black stripe. Juveniles are similar to females, but they also have brown spots on their heads.

Habitat And Behavior

Great tits are widely distributed across Asia and Europe. However, they can also be found in certain parts of Africa and Oceania. They’re located throughout Europe, except for Iceland and northern Scandinavia.

You can find these birds year-round in the UK, except in the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland. Great Tits are usually non-migratory throughout their range. Still, a small wintering population spends time in the UK during the colder months.

You can find Great Tits in deciduous and mixed forests, forest edges, and gardens. However, they tend to avoid habitats containing coniferous trees.

These birds are active during the day and roost in flocks at nighttime. Furthermore, Great Tit nests are usually located in holes in trees, walls, and rockfaces.

Great Tits have a similar song to Coal Tits, except theirs is slower and have a lower pitch. One familiar Great Tit call is a “teacher, teacher” sound.

Diet

Great Tits often flock with other birds when foraging. They usually eat invertebrates during spring and summer, but they will add seeds and fruits to their diet during fall and winter.

You can attract Great Tits with a nest box or a bird table containing sunflower seeds or peanuts. However, they can be pretty aggressive at bird tables, often scaring away smaller tits.

Interesting Facts

  • During winter, the Great Tit may prey on hibernating pipistrelle bats. This is the first time a songbird has been recorded to do so.
  • The Great Tit is an intelligent species. A 2018 study from Sweden discovered that Great Tits have as much self-control as chimpanzees and ravens, animals known for being cognitively advanced.
  • Among the tits you can find in the UK, the Great Tit is the largest.

Other Similar Bird Species

Apart from resembling each other, the Great Tit and Coal Tit may also seem like other birds in color scheme, acrobatic skills, and restless demeanor.

Some of them include:

1. Blue Tit 

Blue Tit

Blue Tits have the same underparts as Great Tits, except their upperparts are blue and don’t have a black head.

2. Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tits look similar to the Asian subspecies of Coal Tits. However, the latter is darker overall, especially on the head.

3. Marsh Tit and Willow Tit

Marsh Tit
Marsh Tit
Willow Tit
Willow Tit

These tits are similar to the Coal Tit, except these birds have fully black caps and larger cheeks, whereas the Coal Tit has a white spot on the nape.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Blue Tit the same as a Great Tit?

Apart from the Coal Tit, the Great Tit is also often confused with the Blue Tit since these tit species are often seen foraging together.

However, remember that Blue Tits have blue upperparts, and they lack the black head and black stripe that Great Tits have.

What is the conservation status of the Coal Tit and Great Tit?

Even though the Coal Tit has a smaller population than the Great Tit, these two species are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.

However, they can still be threatened by losing habitat and insect diet when trees and vegetation are destroyed.

Are all tits in the Paridae family?

The tit family Paridae encompasses tits, titmice, and chickadees. Both the Coal Tit and Great Tit belong to this family.

However, some known tits are from other bird families. For example, the Long-Tailed Tit is from the bushtit family Aegithalidae.

Meanwhile, the Bearded Tit isn’t even a tit at all. Its real name is Bearded Reedling from the Panuridae family.


Conclusion

Coal Tits and Great Tits are two bird species that are so familiar that they’re often confused with each other. Although they have several key differences, identifying them can be challenging for many new birdwatchers.

You can observe these birds more carefully if you distract them with bird feeders. This way, you can temporarily suppress the restless behavior that makes them zip all over.

We hope that our Coal Tit vs. Great Tit guide helped you improve as a birdwatcher. Someday, you might even be able to identify other species in your backyard!

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