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Thursday, March 24, 2005


Japanese wagtail

* Japanese name: Segurosekirei
* Scientific name: Motacilla grandis
* Description: Wagtails are easily identified by the way their tails wag frenetically when they walk. Even their flight pattern seems to wag -- they fly in an undulating wave. The head, throat and the top of the back and the wings and tail are black (the Japanese name refers to the black back); the rest of the bird is white. There is a white horizontal stripe from the base of the bill over the eye. The chest is plump; adult birds are about 21 cm long. Japanese wagtails often sing, making a high "tzi-tzi" call while flying and roosting.
* Where to find them: Japanese wagtails are endemic to Japan and are fairly common from Honshu to Kyushu. In summer they can be seen alongside fresh, fast-flowing rivers and streams, especially those fringed with woodland, vegetation or rocks. In winter they move to lowland areas, and can be seen in gardens, farm areas and even city centers. They often hang out on the Tamagawa River in Tokyo. Sewage processing facilities are also favored sites (that's not to compare the Tamagawa River with a sewage facility).
* Food: Insects. Wagtails search for small flies and beetles in gardens and damp gutters.
* Special features: Males and females pair off and defend a territory throughout the year. Males will aggressively chase away other males they find loitering at the border of their territory. They make a threat display by shaking the head up and down and will even jump against an intruder. The aggressive behavior suggests that males will try to sneak into another male's territory and copulate with his female. As yet, however, no DNA analysis of chicks and their parents has been performed to confirm or debunk this idea. Pairs are loyal to their territory (if not each other): One study showed that 74 percent of birds remained in the same territory the following year. Wagtails are known for the huge communal roosts they sometimes form in winter. Although Pied wagtails gather in groups of more than 3,000, groups of Japanese wagtails do not exceed a few hundred.

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