The colonization history and present-day population structure of the European subspecies of the great tit Parus major major were studied using mitochondrial control region sequences. One major haplotype was found in all but one of the eight sampled populations from Spain to northern Finland. The other haplotypes differed from the common one by just a few substitutions; the overall nucleotide diversity was 0.00187 and haplotype diversity 0.8633. No population structuring was detected. The mismatch distribution followed the expected distribution of an expanding population. The estimated time to the most recent common ancestor coincides with the last glacial period. The results suggest that P. m. major survived the last glacial period in a single isolated refuge probably by the Mediterranean Sea. This was followed by rapid colonization of the European continent and population growth. The most recent range expansion northwards is still occurring. Gene flow between the sampled populations is extensive. It is aided by juvenile dispersal, long-distance movements of juvenile flocks and partial migration in the northern parts of the great tit's range.