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What is a Tomtit?

By Debra Durkee
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The name tomtit can refer to two different types of birds. One is a small, dark, robin-like bird native to New Zealand and also known as the miromiro, the Maui Potiki, or the Ngiru-Ngiru. The other, with bright blue, white, green and yellow plumage, is also known as the blue tit or the tom titmouse.

The tomtit indigenous to New Zealand is a small bird, typically 5 inches (13 cm) in length and weighing only 0.02 pounds (11 g). Males have black feathers on their heads, backs, wings, and upper chests, with white breast feathers and white in the wings and tails. Females are mostly brown, with gray chins and gray to white breast feathers. Feathers in the wing and tail that are white on the male are cream on the female. Like many birds, once a pair is established through a courtship, they are mates for life.

These forest-dwellers build their nests in the cavities of trees or in the crooks of forked branches, where as many as three sets of eggs can be raised in a single breeding season. There are between three and six off-white eggs in each set. Young and mature birds feed on invertebrates such as spiders, caterpillars, moths, and even wasps, and whatever fruits they can find in the winter months.

The tomtit is an important bird in the Maori culture, where it is portrayed as a fast-moving, alert scout. Legend says that in an epic battle between sea and land birds the tomtit was the vigilant lookout for the land birds. They are also said to act as messenger between estranged couples, and they signify light and life because of the whiteness of the male's breast feathers. In the legend of Maui, the hero of the story journeys to the underworld as a tomtit, and after he dies his spirit is given to the form of the tomtit to live on.

Another bird called a tomtit, this one native to Europe, the United Kingdom, North Africa, and the Near East, is also known as the blue tit. This colorful bird has a bright yellow breast, blue wings, and a black and white head with a blue crown. It is commonly seen in gardens and woodlands throughout its native range, and nests in hedges, trees, and bushes. Those interested in attracting these tomtits to the garden need only set up a peanut feeder and some nestboxes, as they are easily attracted.

Like the New Zealand native they share their name with, these northern tomtits have a diet mainly made up of invertebrates and fruits, though they also eat seeds and nuts. They remain in their home territory year-round, and do not migrate south for the winter months. Instead, they travel in flocks to keep warm and are frequently seen with other members of the tit family.

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