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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004

ANIMAL TRACKER

Long-tailed tit


* Japanese name: Enaga
* Scientific name: Aegithalos caudatus
* Description:The long-tailed tit is a small, fluffy, pinkish bird; it would be the Bridget Jones of the bird world if only it were better fed. The flanks and shoulders are pink-brown; the eyes red; the wings black; and the tail, which is longer than the body, is black with a thin, white border. Like the English name, the Japanese name for the bird refers to the distinctive tail: It means "long handle." Total length (including tail): 15 cm; wingspan: 18 cm. The bill is very small, and although long-tailed tits do not have much of a song, they make high-pitched "tsee-tsee-tsee" calls.
* Where to find them: Long-tailed tits are common residents of Japan, found from Hokkaido to Kyushu. They can be seen year-round. A social bird, they are often found in flocks of 20-30 birds, twittering in tall trees. They are acrobatic and energetic, and can be seen hanging upside-down on twigs searching for food. Their favored habitat is woodland, scrubland, farmland, parks and gardens. In winter they form flocks with other tit species.
* Food:Spiders, insects and insect larvae, especially caterpillars; long-tailed tits also feed on berries and peanut feeders in gardens.
* Special features:The nest of the long-tailed tit is a globular masterpiece of careful construction. Both the male and female in a pair cooperate to build it, using moss and lichen, animal wool, hair and fur, and silk from spiders' webs. The resulting nest is lined with feathers (sometimes more than 2,000), forming a warm, elastic ball with a tiny side entrance. Construction may take up to three weeks. In this nest the female lays around a dozen small eggs that are about 14 × 10 mm and white with pink-red spots. As the chicks grow, the elastic nest grows too. Timing is crucial: If the nest is built before the spring leaves have opened, then jays and magpies will be able to see it and plunder it for eggs. The ready social behavior of the long-tailed tit pays off during the raising of the young: Other birds that have failed to breed often assist the parents, bringing food for the young. With so many mouths to feed, the parents benefit from the extra help. Long-tailed tits are vulnerable to the weather, and cold winters kill many individuals. However, their large brood sizes mean the populations can quickly recover. There is some data suggesting that long-tailed tits are starting to lay their eggs earlier in the year. The shift might be due to climatic changes and global warming.



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