Factors influencing Willow Tit Poecile montanus site occupancy: a comparison of abandoned and occupied woods


*Corresponding author. Email: arjun.amar@rspb.org.uk


The British Willow Tit Poecile montanus kleinschmidti underwent a decline of 85% between 1970 and 2003. The cause of this decline is unknown. However, several hypotheses have been put forward to account for it: competition from other tit species, predation by Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major and habitat change. In order to test these, woods that are currently occupied by Willow Tits were paired with woods (within 50 km) that had been abandoned by Willow Tits five or more years previously. Point counts for other tit species (potential competitors) and woodpecker species (potential predators) were carried out at ten evenly spaced points throughout each wood. Habitat variables were collected within a 50-m radius of where a Willow Tit was located (in the occupied woods) or where maps showed a Willow Tit had been located (for abandoned woods). No evidence was found for differences in numbers of potential competitor or potential predator species in abandoned and occupied woods. Soil water content was found to be higher at occupied sites. No other habitat features differed between the two categories of site. The drying up of British woods could therefore be implicated in the Willow Tit decline and this warrants further investigation.