The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 681/A Hitherto Overlooked British Bird

A Hitherto Overlooked British Bird (1898)
by Ernst Hartert
4092666A Hitherto Overlooked British Bird1898Ernst Hartert


By Ernst Hartert.

In a country so well explored and so well stocked with truth-seeking ornithologists as Great Britain, the addition of a bird "new to the British list" is always an event. Nevertheless several such additions have been made lately, but they were all stragglers from the far east or west; and it is, I believe, a long time ago that a resident breeding species has been added to the list. This, however, has occurred now with the discovery in England of Parus salicarius, Brehm.[1]

It is well known that the Marsh Tits, to which this species belongs, consist of a number of local forms, partly recognized as species, partly as subspecies, by modern ornithologists. Thus over the greatest part of Central Europe we find a common Marsh Tit with a glossy, somewhat bluish-black head, generally called Parus palustris. To it belongs the common English Marsh Tit, which has been called P. dresseri, but which hardly differs in colour from West German and French specimens, but is a little smaller, and has a shorter bill. It is no species, but should be recognized as a subspecies by exact workers. From it the East German bird differs much more, especially in colour; but, strange to say, this fact has only recently been recognized. Different from these subspecifically allied forms are the Northern Marsh Tits, known as P. borealis, and replaced by a very closely allied form in the Alps. These Tits are always admitted to be different from the common Central European Marsh Tits. They differ at a glance by the colour of the crown, which looks less glossy and more of a brownish black. To this group also belongs Parus salicarius. This different colour is produced by a very different structure of these feathers. In the common Marsh Tits these feathers are deep black, rounded, and with strong glossy reflexes on the tips. In the Northern Marsh Tit and our P. salicarius they are brownish black, more lengthened, without strong reflexes on the tips, less compact, and less strongly pigmented. The tail in the common Marsh Tits is almost straight, only the lateral pair being a little shorter. The tail in P. salicarius and allies is strongly graduated, at least the two lateral pairs being much shortened. There are also differences in colour, form, and size of bill, et cet.; but they are not so easy to see, and I will not dilate upon them at length. With regard to P. salicarius, it may be added that it differs from P. borealis considerably in size, form of bill, colour of flanks, colour of edges of wings, and of the entire upper side. It is, however, as P. borealis is not known to occur in Great Britain, more important for British ornithologists to distinguish it from the ordinary British Marsh Tit generally called P. palustris dresseri, and I may therefore repeat that it differs from the latter chiefly in the colour and structure of the feathers of the crown, the form of the tail, and the more rufous flanks and more brownish edges of the secondaries, besides its call-note being very different.

P. salicarius, although described as long ago as 1831, has been lost sight of for a long time, and only quite recently our young friends on the Continent, Kleinschmidt and Prazak, have rediscovered it. I myself came across it long ago in the willow thickets of the Lower Rhine near Wesel, and was at once struck by the colour of its crown, which, however, I thought erroneously to be due to its being a young summer bird. No credit therefore is due to my observation, which was lost through my travelling far away into Africa and India, which ended for a time my studies of German birds. The specimen in question, which somehow lost its original exact label, was later given by me to the British Museum in exchange, and is there now. P. salicarius evidently inhabits dark willow thickets and other swampy woods, so dense that the sun hardly ever reaches the ground in them. It is found on the Rhine between Worms and Bingen and near Wesel, and at Renthendorf in Saxony. When Mr. Kleinschmidt was in England last autumn he recognized two British skins, from Hampstead, in the British Museum, as P. salicarius, and as these birds were just then in fairly good plumage, I at once tried to procure some specimens, but only succeeded in getting three from Finchley.

Neither were we able to find them anywhere near Tring, doubtless from want of suitable localities; nor could we procure any more from our correspondents. There can, however, be no doubt that there are many suitable localities in England where this bird is found, and I hope ornithologists will look out for it, and procure some specimens in autumn, as soon after the moult as possible, for it is a pity to shoot any when they are in abraded dirty spring plumage, which in Tits is rather poor, as everybody knows.

More detailed accounts and figures of P. salicarius can be read in the 'Ornitholog. Jahrbuch,' vol. viii, Heft 2, and in the 'Journal für Ornithol.' 1897, no. 2 (April). These articles show that the forms of the Marsh Tits by no means form a chaos out of which it is too difficult to find a way, but that with some study they become a very clear group. The British specimens of P. salicarius, it may be added, differ a little from continental ones in being somewhat darker above, and having shorter wings; but more material will be necessary to decide about the constancy of these characters. In any case there is no doubt that another species, not a subspecies, must be added, as P. salicarius, Brehm, to the British list. As this species is a resident bird, and as all Marsh Tits are resident birds, there can be no doubt that the Willow Tit, as this bird may appropriately be called, will be found all the year round in suitable localities in Great Britain and perhaps in Ireland.

  1. Nowadays known as a subspecies of the Willow Tit: Poecile montanus salicarius (Wikisource-Ed.)

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