Blue Titmouse—Bandit of the bird world.


Picture of a blue titmouse bird.

When milk used to be delivered to door steps in Britain, the householders would stoop to take in the morning milk only to find that they have been raided.

Yes, the cream had been plundered from their milk bottles!

Tomtit, that brilliant bandit of the bird world, has been at it again.

Bold and agile, a blue titmouse knew what it wanted and it would tilt itself precariously into a milk bottle to drink down an inch or two of cream.

But how did this bird bandit open the milk bottles?

Milk caps were no great problem.

When thick, waxed cardboard disks were used to seal milk bottles, it seemed to be secure and (one would have thought) beak proof.

But tomtit patiently peeled it away layer by layer.

Then came the foil cap.

But it too failed to stop the high-powered, chisel-like beak of tomtit.

Stones placed on top are moved with cheeky impudence.

Covering milk bottles with cloths has also failed to protect them.

But if the householders had occasional problems, the milkman had them too.

There were reports that flights of tomtits trailed milk carts down the streets, just as gulls follow the plow, and opened bottle tops while the milkman is busy with his deliveries.

But tomtit had a craving not only for cream.

An ingredient of putty was also tasty to tomtit’s

Building operations to finish a bungalow were once held up when a nearby wood disgorged its large population of blue tits.

The putty-eating spree that followed caused every pane of glass to fall out.

Why tomtit excels at banditry acts?


Perhaps tomtit had become an adroit specialist in the art of bottle opening due to its ability to learn tricks.

The book Birds of the World notes:

“Titmice are the most adaptable and teachable of the very small birds . . . the tricks tame titmice can be taught are amazing.” 

For example, the book states that in Japan the varied titmouse is used by fortune-tellers.

At a command, the bird hops to its perch, takes a coin from the fingers, drops it into a box, opens the door of a miniature shrine and pulls out a piece of paper, even unwrapping it.

Thus blue tits seem capable of learning by trial-and-error methods.

Writes bird biologist J. C. Welty of Beloit College, Wisconsin:

“Such pilfering of milk from bottles can scarcely be inborn behavior.” 

And as bird expert Kenneth Graham writes:

“If intelligence is defined as the ability to see connections and to profit from past experience, then it has to be conceded that the tits possess this attribute to a greater extent than has hitherto been thought possible in studies of bird behavior.”

Since blue tits’ natural habitat is the woodland, their incursion deep into the heart of a great metropolis is all the more remarkable.

Their inborn expertise enables them both to exist and to multiply in the dreary and comparatively treeless areas of a throbbing city.

And their choice of nesting sites in the big city also shows ability to try almost anything.

For their nesting sites are typically unpredictable: the spare wheel of a car, letter boxes, drainpipes, streetlamps, old pumps, and even in the overcoat pockets of a scarecrow placed beside a row of peas especially to frighten off—did you guess?—blue tits!

A desired bird despite banditry


And how does the public in general view this bird of so many talents?

Despite it's history of pilfering of cream, nothing approaching a public outcry has emerged.

To the contrary, something akin to admiration underlies personal accounts of bird banditry.

Thus though these little birds have been making a nuisance of themselves at times, bird lovers still dangle morsels in a garden to get a visit from this small dandy of the feathered world.

Tidbits loved by blue tits include cheese, bacon rind, peanuts threaded on a wire, seeds and the half coconut.

In fact, tomtit is really one of Britain’s favorite garden birds.

It is greatly appreciated for its engaging antics such as hanging upside down to get at a suspended half coconut.

Another reason tomtit is a desired bird, despite its banditry, is that it serves farmers beneficially by consuming great quantities of pest insects.

One pair of birds were seen to make eighty visits an hour to their nest.

Allowing for necessary breaks, Mr. and Mrs. Tomtit were fetching 1,500 meals a day, or 10,000 or so a week consisting of the grubs of apple blossom weevil, and sawfly maggots.

Blue tits then are a cost-free labor force for ridding fruit trees of pests.

Unfortunately, thoughtless removal of trees and indiscriminate use of pesticides has compelled blue tits to look elsewhere for their meals.

Because of their banditry, some had called blue tits “mad.”

But with the growth of urban areas and the reduction of fertile areas, it would be honest to conclude that it is our mad behavior that has affected the tits.