Owls to Tits (incl. Falcons)

Barn Owl Tyto alba

Barn Owl comprises around thirty-five subspecies across its large world range but only two are of relevance here – nominate alba from Britain, western and southern France, Iberia and the western Mediterranean and guttata (‘Dark-breasted Barn Owl’) eastwards from the Netherlands across central Europe and western Russia. A wide intergrade zone on the near-continent separates the two subspecies, within which birds of variable, intermediate appearance are common (Cramp et al. 1985).

Nominate alba is common in Britain. Otherwise only guttata is on the British List. The latter is more prone to wandering than alba and has a long history of reaching this country. BBRC assessed records of guttata from 2006 onwards, since when ten have been accepted and published.

Identification can be straightforward but is not always clear-cut. There is considerable individual and sex-related variation in both subspecies whilst intergradation between alba and guttata means that only darker guttata (predominantly females) are safely diagnosable and paler guttata may be overlooked. The key features are uniformly deep buff underparts extending to the tarsi, undertail coverts and underwing coverts, extensive dark grey hues in the upperparts and dark areas around the eyes (French 2009).

However, to complicate matters, British alba may rear dark, guttata-like chicks so that a bird resembling guttata is not necessarily of continental origin. The reverse situation occurs on the continent, where guttata may rear young resembling alba.  This has led the CDNA to reconsider its approach to apparent vagrant alba in the Netherlands (Haas et al. 2014). Nevertheless, most birds showing full guttata characters, especially those on the east coast and in the Northern Isles during migration periods, are believed to be genuinely of this form.

Claims of ‘classic’ guttata are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and preferably photographs. Details of a ringed or marked bird would provide additional evidence.

Older, locally published records will not be reviewed unless this is specifically requested and photographs are available. We urge observers to submit further evidence of apparently normal alba rearing guttata-like young so that we can better understand this phenomenon in Britain. (updated February 2015 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1985. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 4. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

French, P.R. 2009. From the Rarities Committee’s files: Identification of Dark-breasted Barn Owl in Britain. British Birds 102: 494-503.

Haas, M., Slaterus, R. & CDNA. 2014. Rare birds in the Netherlands in 2013. Dutch Birding 36: 365-393.

Mikkola, H. 1983. Owls of Europe. Poyser, Calton.

Osborn, K. 1999. The Dark-breasted Barn Owl on Shetland. Birding World 12: 454-457.

Van Rijswijk, C. 2009. Witte Kerkuilen in Nederland: voorkomen en herkenning.Dutch Birding 31: 353-364.

 

Swift Apus apus

Swift comprises two subspecies – nominate apus across the Western Palearctic and northern Russia and pekinensis (‘Eastern Common Swift’) from Iran to Mongolia and northern China (Cramp et al. 1985).

Nominate apus is a very common breeder in Britain. The subspecies pekinensis is not on the British List although it is a potential vagrant and has occasionally been suspected (Kehoe 2006).

The identification of pekinensis is not straightforward as it needs to be distinguished not just from nominate apus but also from three subspecies of Pallid Swift Apus pallidus. Adult pekinensis may suggest a dark Pallid Swift with a relatively dark body and underwing coverts contrasting with a pale, ‘silvery’ innerwing and a large pale throat patch but it also shows a very clearly-defined white forehead and the rear body and tail structure of a Swift.  The identification of juveniles is much more problematic, with juvenile nominate apus also a complication. Firm identification features for juvenile pekinensis are not known, and field identification is probably impossible even with good views and photographs. Of course the difficulty of obtaining good views, the dramatically shifting appearance of plumage according to the light conditions and the difficulty of assessing structure and plumage even in good photographs all further complicate the identification of these swifts.

Claims of pekinensis are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs but only a ringing recovery from the core range is likely to confirm this subspecies in a vagrant context. (updated February 2015 AMS).

References

Ahmed, R. & Adriaens, P. 2010. Common, Asian Common and Pallid Swift: colour, nomenclature, moult and identification. Dutch Birding 32: 97-105.

Corso, A. 2000. Common Swift and illyricus Pallid Swift. Birding World 13: 37.

Cramp, S. et al. 1985. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 4. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kehoe, C. 2006. Racial identification and assessment in Britain. British Birds 99: 618-645.

Larsson, H. & Wallin, M. 2012. Lär dig skilja ut seglama. Vår Vågelvärld 5: 40-51.

Lewington, I. 1999. Separation of Pallid Swift and pekinensis Common Swift. Birding World 12: 450-452.

 

Great Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos major

Great Spotted Woodpecker comprises around twenty-five subspecies across a large European and Asian range but only three are of relevance here – anglicus from Britain, nominate major (‘Northern Great Spotted Woodpecker’) from northern Europe and northern Russia, and pinetorum (‘European Great Spotted Woodpecker’) from central Europe (Cramp et al. 1985).

The subspecies anglicus is common in Britain. Otherwise only nominate major is on the British List, this migratory and irruptive subspecies being a scarce migrant here. By contrast, pinetorum is largely sedentary although its occurrence in Britain has been suspected (Kehoe 2006).

The identification of pinetorum is problematic. Not only is it not a distinctive subspecies but it also intergrades widely with nominate major. Biometrics are useful, however, pinetorum being long and slim-billed and short-winged.

Claims of pinetorum should be accompanied by biometrics. Details of a ringed bird would of course provide additional evidence. (updated February 2015 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1985. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 4. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kehoe, C. 2006. Racial identification and assessment in Britain. British Birds 99: 618-645.

Odin, N. 2006. Racial determination of Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major in Britain. Ringers’ Bulletin 11: 106.

Winkler, H. et al. 1995. WoodpeckersA Guide to the Woodpeckers, Piculets and Wrynecks of the World. Pica Press.

 

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker comprises around twelve subspecies in Europe, with a further two or three in Asia. Only two are of relevance here, however – comminutus (‘British Lesser Spotted Woodpecker’) from Britain and nominate minor (‘Northern Lesser Spotted Woodpecker’) from Scandinavia, north-east Poland and European Russia (Cramp et al. 1985).

The subspecies comminutus is a declining  breeder in Britain. Nominate minor is not on the British List although it has a history of autumn irruptions in Scandinavia and the Baltic region and is a potential vagrant. A bird on Shetland in October 2012 (the first for Scotland following its earlier removal from the Scottish List) coincided with a major irruption of this species in northern Europe. The circumstantial evidence that this bird was minor is therefore very strong. However, at present the observers and the committee have been unable to establish any criteria which might enable this individual to be assigned to minor with full confidence. 

The identification of minor is not straightforward though it shows on average more well-streaked breast-sides and flanks than comminutus. However, these features are subject to variation. Biometrics are useful, minor being larger and longer-winged than comminutus.

Claims of minor should be accompanied by biometrics. Details of a ringed bird would of course provide additional evidence. (updated Jan 2016 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1985. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 4. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Fray, R. 2013. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Scalloway, October 2012 – The First Shetland and Scottish Record. Scottish Birds

Winkler, H. et al. 1995. WoodpeckersA Guide to the Woodpeckers, Piculets and Wrynecks of the World. Pica Press.

 

Merlin Falco columbarius

Merlin has as many as ten subspecies recognised. The subspecies aesalon breeds across northern Europe to western Siberia, with subaesalon in Iceland. Further afield, insignis breeds in north and east Siberia, with pallidus (‘Steppe Merlin’) breeding in northern Kazakhstan and south-west Siberia. In North America, nominate columbarius (‘Taiga Merlin’) breeds across the north of the continent.

The subspecies aesalon is a regular breeder and winter visitor in Britain, subaesalon occurring as a migrant and in winter. There are no currently accepted British records of nominate columbarius (an old pre-BBRC specimen record has been reviewed and rejected) but it is clearly a potential vagrant. It is a long distance migrant and there is a record from Ireland in September 2000 (http://www.irbc.ie/reports/irbr/2007_IRBR.pdf).

Identification of nominate columbarius can be straightforward by reference to the tail pattern.

Claims of nominate columbarius should include detailed notes and photographs. (updated November 2014 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1980. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 2. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Forsman, D. 1999. The Raptors of Europe and The Middle East. T & A. D. Poyser, London.

Garner, M. 2002. Identification and vagrancy of American Merlins in Europe. Birding World 15: 468-480.

Irish Rare Bird Report 2007. http://www.irbc.ie/reports/irbr/2007_IRBR.pdf.

 

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

Peregrine is widespread and exhibits considerable variation, with around fifteen subspecies recognised worldwide. Nominate peregrinus breeds across Europe and northern Asia but is replaced across northernmost Arctic regions by calidus (‘Russian Peregrine’), a long distance migrant. Simailarly, in North America the subspecies anatum is replaced in northernmost regions by tundrius (‘Tundra Peregrine’), also a long distance migrant.

Nominate peregrinus breeds in Britain. No other subspecies is currently on the British List though an old pre-BBRC specimen record of anatum has been reviewed and rejected (Harrop 2004). However, calidus doubtless occurs, possibly with some regularity, and tundrius has also been suspected. The latter is clearly a potential vagrant, having reached Iceland on at least two occasions.

Adults of the two Arctic subspecies are not straightforward to identify as there is some character overlap with nominate peregrinus. Juveniles offer better prospects, however, though these too are variable and only paler birds will prove striking in the field. When faced with such birds, observers should pay particular attention to the head and face pattern. Separating the two Arctic subspecies may be even more problematic, and categorisation as calidus/tundrius (‘Arctic Peregrine’) might be the most appropriate treatment. Potential identification problems also include the elimination of other large falcon species, especially escaped birds from falconers/collections whose genetic make-up might be obscure. Biometrics are helpful, calidus being large compared to nominate peregrinus.

Claims of calidus/tundrius as a subspecies pair should include detailed notes and good photographs but biometrics (in respect of calidus) or details from a ringed or marked bird would be needed to prove an identification to subspecies. The issue of potential captive origin is also highly relevant in any claim of these subspecies. (updated Sept 2015 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1980. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 2. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Forsman, D. 1999. The Raptors of Europe and The Middle East. T & A. D. Poyser, London.

Harrop, A. H . J. 2004. The ‘North American’ Peregrine Falcon in Britain. A Review on behalf of the British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee. Brit. Birds 97: 130-133.

Millington, R. 2011. Identification of Arctic Peregrines in Britain. Birdng World 24: 113-119.

 

Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor

Great Grey Shrike comprises nine subspecies. Nominate excubitor occurs in northern and central Europe whilst homeyeri (sometimes known as ‘Steppe Shrike’) breeds from south-east Europe through the Ural mountains into western Siberia. Further east, sibiricus (‘North Siberian Shrike’) breeds in central and eastern Siberia, with leucopterus, mollis, bianchii and funereus occupying restricted areas in Central and East Asia. Two subspecies – borealis and invictus (known collectively as ‘Northern Shrike’) – occur in North America. A further eleven grey shrike forms are currently treated as ‘Southern Grey Shrike’ Lanius meridionalis (Cramp et al. 1993).

The taxonomy of the ‘Great Grey Shrikes’ is in a state of considerable flux. DNA evidence fails to support the current two species split, and at least six potential species have been identified though not formally proposed (Olsson 2010). In particular, a deep genetic divide is identified between a clade containing (amongst others) excubitor, homeyeri and leucopterus and one containing (amongst others) sibiricus, mollis, bianchii, funereus,borealis and invictus. This suggests a split between a new more tightly-defined ‘Great Grey Shrike’ encompassing the former three subspecies and ‘Northern Grey Shrike’ Lanius borealis encompassing the latter five.

Irrespective of such proposals, the subspecific validity of homeyeri has been questioned, intergradation with both excubitor in the west and leucopterus in the east indicating that it may represent merely a point along a cline (Tajkova & Red’kin 2014). However, it is also possible that some ‘intergrades’ may represent the incompletely documented range of variation in homeyeri.

Nominate excubitor is a regular autumn and winter visitor to Britain in small numbers. No other subspecies is on the British List but at least homeyeri, sibricus and borealis are potential vagrants. Birds showing some homeyeri characters have been documented in Yorkshire and Norfolk (http://birdingfrontiers.com/2010/12/15/sheffields-steppe-shrike-update/, Nash 2012). However, neither of these individuals shows the full suite of homeyeri characters and such birds would be treated as intergrades by the Rarities Committees in Sweden and Finland.  Up to 2010 these committees have accepted seven and three records of homeyeri respectively. Elsewhere in Europe, homeyeri has been recorded as close as Germany (where five have been accepted), sibricus has been confirmed as close as Norway (where two accepted records are in Category B) and borealis has reached the Azores (http://birdingcorvo2013.blogspot.nl/2014/10/northern-grey-shrike-first-wp-record.html).

The identification of ‘classic’ homeyeri rests largely on the amount of white in the secondaries and spread tail but is hampered by the significant individual, age and sex-related and geographical variation both within this subspecies and within excubitor. Two broad plumage types of the latter are recognised – a darker morph with white restricted to the primaries (most prevalent in the northern part of the range and formerly given the name ‘melanopterus’) and a paler morph with white extending onto the secondaries (most prevalent in France and Germany and forrmerly given the name ‘galliae’). This latter type may approach homeyeri in appearance, as do excubitor/homeyeri intergrades. Biometrics might provide useful evidence.

The subspecies sibiricus and borealis show white in the wing limited to the primaries, brown hues in the upperparts, strong vermiculations on the underparts (even in adults) and extensive dark in the bases of the outer tail feathers. However, some Scandinavian excubitor also show brown hues in the upperparts and heavily-barred underparts, therefore tending towards sibiricus, and some birds from here and from central European USSR are said to be inseparable from that form (Cramp et al. 1993). However, it is also possible that some of these ‘intergrades’ may represent the incompletely documented range of variation in sibiricus. Nevertheless, the identification of a vagrant sibiricus will clearly be challenging. Furthermore, distinguishing sibiricus from borealis would also be problematic and may have to invoke circumstantial evidence. The separation of sibiricus from Nearctic birds requires further research.

Claims of homeyeri are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and photographs (including of the spread wing and tail) but only ‘classic’ individuals are likely to prove acceptable. Biometrics might provide useful evidence. Claims of sibiricus and borealis are also welcomed but, pending further research, may only be acceptable to the level of sibiricus/borealis. A ringing recovery or DNA evidence would enable more precise attribution to subspecies. (updated February 2015 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1993. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 7. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Lefranc, N. & Worfolk, T. 1997. Shrikes: A Guide to the Shrikes of the World. Pica Press. Mountfield, Sussex.

Nash, M. 2012. Great Grey Shrikes at Fakenham and Felbrigg. Norfolk Bird & Mammal Report 2011. Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society.

Olsson U., Alström P., Svensson L., Aliabadian M. & Sundberg P. 2010. The Lanius excubitor (Aves, Passeriformes) conundrum – Taxonomic dilemma when molecular and non-molecular data tell different stories. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 55: 347-357.

http://birdingcorvo2013.blogspot.nl/2014/10/northern-grey-shrike-first-wp-record.html

http://birdingfrontiers.com/2010/12/15/sheffields-steppe-shrike-update/

Tajkova, S. U. & Red’kin, A. A. 2014.  The Northern Shrike Lanius borealis sibiricus Bogdanov, 1881 (Aves: Laniidae) in Ukraine: a taxonomic assessment. Journal of the National Museum (Prague) Natural History Series 183: 89-107.

 

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator

Woodchat Shrike comprises three subspecies – nominate senator across most of the Mediterranean, badius (‘Balearic Woodchat Shrike’) on the islands of the western Mediterranean basin and niloticus (‘Eastern Woodchat Shrike’) in the Levant, the Caucasus and Iran (Cramp et al. 1993).

Both nominate senator and badius are on the British List, the former a scarce migrant, the latter very rare with ten accepted records to date. The subspecies niloticus is a potential vagrant to Britain but there as yet no British records.

The identification of badius depends on the absence or virtual absence of visible white in the base of the primaries on the closed wing of adults. First-year birds also lack the white or creamy-white bases to the primaries shown by the other subspecies (Small & Walbridge 2005).

Adult niloticus show a large white primary patch and diagnostic white bases to the central tail feathers though the former feature overlaps with senator and the latter can be difficult to see in the field. However, first-year birds exhibit a generally more advanced post-juvenile moult than senator and can present a highly distinctive appearance even in early autumn, showing, for example, a plain dark mantle, pure white underparts and a large white primary patch clearly-defined at the distal edge. By late autumn, a first-winter niloticus might be mistaken for an adult (Rowlands 2010).

Claims of badius are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and preferably photographs. Claims of first-year niloticus should be accompanied by photographs. Claims of adult niloticus are also welcomed but only trapped, measured and photographed birds are likely to gain acceptance (though it might be possible to photograph the bases of the central tail feathers in the field). For either subspecies a ringing recovery would of course provide additional evidence. (updated February 2015 AMS).

References

Corso, A. 1997. Balearic Woodchat Shrikes in Britain. Birding World 10: 152-153.

Cramp, S. et al. 1993. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 7. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Lefranc, N. & Worfolk, T. 1997. Shrikes: A Guide to the Shrikes of the World. Pica Press. Mountfield, Sussex.

Rowlands, A. 2010. Identification of eastern Woodchat Shrike. British Birds 103: 385-395.

Small, B. J. & Walbridge, G. 2005. A review of the identification of ‘Balearic Woodchat Shrike’, and details of three British records. British Birds 98: 34-42.

 

Jackdaw Corvus monedula

Jackdaw is represented in Europe by three subspecies. The subspecies spermologus occurs in Western Europe, intergrading with nominate monedula (‘Nordic Jackdaw’ or ‘Scandinavian Jackdaw’) in a broad band from Scandinavia to south-central Europe. In turn, monedula intergrades with soemmerringii (‘Russian Jackdaw’) in a broad band from Finland to south-east Europe. The range of soemmerringii then extends eastward across the whole of Asia (Cramp et al. 1994).

The subspecies spermologus is a very common breeding bird in Britain whilst monedula is a regular and probably under-recorded migrant here, mainly in winter though birds showing apparent monedula characters also occur in the breeding season. The subspecies soemmerringii is not on the British List but it is a migrant wintering south-west into north-central Europe with ringing recoveries from Belgium and north-eastern France (Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer 1991) and it is thought that more than a hundred may winter annually as close as north-eastern France (Crouzier 1995 and Crouzier et al. 1999).

The subspecies soemmerringii is therefore clearly a potential vagrant and may already be occurring. However, variation within monedula and intergradation between monedula and soemmerringii make confident diagnosis of the latter in a vagrant context somewhat problematic.

Claims of ‘classic’ soemmerringii (i.e. those considered to show characters beyond the range of monedula) are welcomed if accompanied by photographs but the admission of this subspecies to the British List without proof of origin in the form of a ringing recovery seems unlikely. (updated February 2015 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1994. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 8. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Crouzier, P. & CHN 1995. Observations françaises du Choucas des tours ‘oriental’ Corvus monedula soemmerringii: une enquête du Comité d’Homologation National. Ornithos 2: 168-169.

Crouzier, P, Duquet, M, Noël, F & CHN 1999. Le Choucas des tours Corvus monedula de la subspecies orientale soemmerringii en France: le point après 3 ans d’enquête. Ornithos 6: 178-182.

Glutz von Blotzheim, U. N. & Bauer, K. M. 1993. Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas 13/III. Wiesbaden.

Harrop, A.  2000. Identification of Jackdaw forms in northwestern Europe. Birding World 13: 290-295.

Madge, S. & Burn, H. 1994. Crows & Jays: a guide to the crows, jays and magpies of the world. Helm, London.

http://calidris.home.xs4all.nl/monedula.htm

 

Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus

Crested Tit comprises five subspecies. The subspecies scoticus occurs in north-central Scotland, nominate cristatus (‘Northern Crested Tit’) in Scandinavia, eastern Europe and Russia, mitratus (‘Central European Crested Tit’) in central and western Europe, weigoldi in Portugal and western and central Spain and abadiei in north-west France (Cramp et al. 1993).

The subspecies scoticus breeds in a restricted area of north-central Scotland. In addition, cristatus and mitratus are on the British List, the former in relation to a bird in North Yorkshire in March 1872, the latter in relation to a bird on the Isle of Wight ‘prior to 1844’. The remaining English records (about ten in all and mostly from the nineteenth century) were not attributed to subspecies but were presumably continental in origin. Scottish birds have not been recorded south of the Central Belt.

Identification to subspecies is difficult though cristatus is paler and more ‘grey and white’ than scoticus. The subspecies mitratus is more similar to Scottish birds. However, mitratus intergrades extensively with cristatus, producing birds of variable appearance.

Details of any birds outside Scotland are welcomed if accompanied by notes and good photographs. Acceptance as cristatus/mitratus might be possible but a ringing recovery will be necessary to identify an individual to subspecies. (updated Sept 2015 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1993. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 7. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1996. Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Helm, London.

 

Coal Tit Periparus ater

Coal Tit comprises a very large number of subspecies across the whole width of the Palearctic. Only three are of relevance here, however. The subspecies britannicus (‘British Coal Tit’) is endemic to Britain and north-east Ireland, nominate ater (‘Continental Coal Tit’) breeds right across Europe and Asia and hibernicus (‘Irish Coal Tit’) breeds in Ireland except in the north-east where it intergrades with britannicus (Cramp et al. 1993).

The subspecies britannicus is very common in Britain. The status of nominate ater in Britain is, however, somewhat obscure but its occurrence here has been confirmed by ringing recoveries (Wernham et al. 2002). It is perhaps best regarded as a scarce, irruptive migrant and may even have bred on Scilly in the late 1970s (Kehoe 2006, Parkin & Knox 2010). The subspecies hibernicus is a potential vagrant and a claim is in circulation.

The identification of hibernicus is problematic, however. The subspecies is characterised by a yellow suffusion to the face and nape but not all birds show this. The situation is further complicated by intergradation with britannicus in north-east Ireland and by variation within this latter subspecies. Notably, some Welsh birds show characters suggesting hibernicus (Cramp et al. 1993).

Claims of hibernicus are welcomed if accompanied by a ringing recovery. (updated March 2015 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1993. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 7. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1996. Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Helm, London.

Kehoe, C. 2006. Racial identification and assessment in Britain. British Birds 99: 618-645.

Parkin, D. T. & Knox, A. G. 2010. The Status of Birds in Britain and Ireland. Christopher Helm, London.

Wernham, C., Toms, M., Marchant, J., Clark, J., Siriwardena, G. & Baillie, S. (eds). 2002. The Migration Atlas: Movements of the Birds of Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser, London.

 

Willow Tit Poecile montana

Willow Tit comprises between ten and fifteen subspecies but only three are of relevance here – kleinschmidti (‘British Willow Tit’) from Britain, borealis (‘Northern Willow Tit’) from Scandinavia, Denmark, the Baltic States, European Russia and Ukraine and rhenanus (‘Central European Willow Tit’) breeding on the near-continent east to westernmost Germany and north-west Switzerland (Cramp et al. 1993).

The subspecies kleinschmidti is a declining breeder in Britain. Otherwise only borealis is on the British List with two accepted records (in Gloucestershire in March 1907 and in Yorkshire in February 1975). The 1907 record was reviewed by BOURC in 2009 and remains accepted (BOURC 38th Report).  There are a number of other British claims (e.g. Brown & Grice 2005) but they appear not to have been submitted to BBRC despite a request for records (British Birds 77:123). The subspecies rhenanus is largely sedentary and is probably an unlikely  vagrant.

Many borealis are readily diagnosable on the basis of greyer upperparts, whiter cheeks and underparts and, in fresh plumage, a stronger white midwing panel but worn kleinschmidti pose a potential pitfall. Biometrics might also provide useful evidence.

Claims of borealis are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs though biometrics or a ringing recovery would provide additional evidence. (updated February 2015 AMS).

References

BOU. 2009. British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee 38th Report. Ibis 152: 199-204.

Brown, A. & Grice, P. 2005. Birds in England. T. & A. D. Poyser, London.  

Cramp, S. et al. 1993. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 7. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1996 Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Helm, London.

Limbert, M. 1984. Vagrant races of Willow Tit in Britain. British Birds 77: 123.