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A Natural History of the Penduline Tits

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The nightingale is singing, which means the fruits of the mulberry tree are not mature, yet. There is an idiom in Turkish which corresponds to “to be just like a nightingale which has eaten mulberry” with word for word translation but literally means tongue-tied in English, however mulberries do not have any effect on the song of the nightingale, but the maturing time of them coincides with the end of the nightingale’s mating season. Thus, there is no reason left for them to sing. Actually, the song of the nightingale is to impress the female nightingale. The birds have to show all their talents during the mating seasons. The talented ones can find a partner, mate and continue their lineage.

New feathers

Some birds improve their appearances in order to impress the female birds and they molt during the mating seasons and the new feathers are important as a visual effect on the females. Some of them try to attract the females with their hunting skills. The preys that they serve to the females are their biggest aces.

Their hunting skills

And others stand out with their skills as it happens in penduline tit. Male penduline tit tries to charm the female with his skill. Instead of a rambling place, this nest is much more like a piece of art. His chance to find a partner depends on this nest. Male knows this very well. When May comes, the male penduline tit rushes, because he needs to make a nest in order to mate. He needs to be quick, because other males are in the same rush, too.

The penduline tit

Penduline tits are from REMIZIDAE family. They need to show their family features for the continuation of the generations. There are special criteria for the nest. The most important one is the type of the tree where the nest will be built on. Penduline tits mostly use willow trees for the nest. When they are done, the nest in the shape of a bag swings on the flexible branches of the willow trees. There are a few reasons of why they choose willow trees. Stretching its branches downwards, the willow tree is one of the most suitable trees for the nest that needs to swing.

The penduline tit's nest

Moreover, its thin branches are more durable against winds and storms compared to the other trees since they are oscillatory. Another feature of willow tree is that it provides nest materials to penduline tits. The fiber like material found on willow tree is very suitable for penduline tits to use in their nests. Another reason is that the leaf insects and their larva found on the willow trees are an easy food source for them.

Nest materials

However, the willow tree is not a single criterion for the nest place of the penduline tits. The tree chosen for the nest should be near a stream or a water channel and there should also be reeds. After finding the place that he can meet his logistic needs, the male starts to make the nest in a fast way. A willow tree branch winding downwards and dividing into two from the edge is ideal for him. First, he creates a circle between these two branches. The circle is the basis of the nest. Thus, it needs to be seriously worked on.

The nest place

After this basis created in a durable way, the circle gradually expands until it has the shape of a hammock or a swing. During this work taking on many days, the male works with a perfect concentration. The secret behind the perfect weaving technique of penduline tits is hidden in their beaks. Their beaks are sharp like a bodkin. This shape of the beak enables him to make the weaving more tightly and elaborately.

Technique of penduline

As you noticed, the penduline tit has worked a lot. And the construction of the nest is ready for the next step which is very hard exam. The trial of the male starts tomorrow. The sun rises and another serenade will be added to the stream that echoes with the song of the great reed warbler. Since this stage is very critical, the male needs to make final additions and controls for his song. And the controls are done. Now he can start to invite a female to make the delicate construction of the nest whose basic structure he has finished.

The nest controls

While the male is at the final preparations, there is a slight movement in the reeds right below the tree. The reason of the movement is probable to come from the reeds swinging. It is impossible to understand this movement with bare eyes. Thus, we scan the reeds with our camera. Here is one of the smallest members of the family herons: the little bittern.

Just like the penduline tit, the bittern is working on its nest. It may be small, but its skills are really big. This bird is normally has the size of a pigeon. However, it can make its size bigger, while its weight stays the same in case of hunting, hiding and protection. It owns this on its very flexible neck. The little bittern’s neck can strain like a bow and attack the target like a spear while hunting. The weapons of the little bittern during the hunt are its bead and perfect neck.

The little bittern

While the little bittern hunts among the reeds, the penduline male has started the invitations. While he calls the female and shows himself around his masterpiece, he also pays attention to the visuality. In other words, he takes off his casual clothes and puts on his special clothes for something important. As much as the masterpiece, its owner is also important. This invitation can continue for many days. Moreover, there is no guarantee of mating at the end. If the male completes its nest and starts invitations at the beginning of the season, his chances are high.

If other males start the invitation at the same time, it becomes unclear which one the female will choose. Briefly, the early bird catches the worm. This penduline male is lucky and very early, because the beginning of the season. The female has a few criteria these are the place of the nest, its durability and its achievement. During these invitations, the male is around the nest, but he need to continue to build the nest, so he goes away to find materials.

Durability and achievement

At that point, there is a suitor for the nest. However, this suitor does not have good intentions. This male is a saboteur. He tries to make his rival slower in this region with high competition. He steals material from the nest. This is a win to win situation for him. He both makes his rival slower and provides material for his nest. He should leave the place before the owner comes. He does not leave any evidence behind. When the owner comes back, he understands that something is wrong, but he can do nothing since there is not a culprit.

Finally, a female approaches while all the conditions are suitable. She examines the nest; the male shows all his skills and persuades the female. From now on, they will build the rest together.

Build the rest together

The acceptance of the female for the nest does not mean mating. Mating will be discussed after the completion of the nest smoothly, but this is a good start. While our hardworking couple works, the willow tree has lazy visitors. The night herons. Since their shift starts after the sunset, they pass the days via resting. A willow tree on which penduline tits work on their nest out of sight, is the perfect place to rest. The panic of the penduline tits in case of a danger is an early warning system for them. Their big eyes compared to their bodies, are crucial for the birds that meet their needs at nights. If the eyes are big, the birds hunt at nights. The tired eyes opened for the smallest movement closed slowly there is no danger.

The night herons

Anyway. There are many birds in this small channel. Coots, Cetti’s Warbler, Eurasian Reed warblers, great reed warblers and bush warblers try to survive in this small place and build their nests. May and June are lively months in several countries for the birds. These months are for matching, flirting, mating, nest building, breeding and raising the young birds.

Small channel

The livelihood of the birds also affects the other species. They are connected actually. The birds decide how many birds they will raise according to the movement of the nature. When there is enough food to feed their babies, there is an increase in the number. When the food is scarce, there is a decrease in the numbers. Yes. Now we come back to the penduline tits again. They’re working really fast. Now the primary responsibility of the male is to collect materials. The female stays back and tries to complete the nest except for the changes in the work order. The male brings the material and the female weaves the nest with all her skills.

The first thing is to connect the edge of this fiber like material to the nest. Later she connects the other edge so that it a bridge. There are hundreds of knots at every inch of the nest. The female weaves tightly. It is too hot and the sunlight directly hits the nest in the afternoon. The working conditions are harsh. The penduline tit whose body temperature increases tries to decrease it via opening its bead. Since there are no sweat glands in the birds, keeping the temperature stable is harder. While many mammals including humans use the liquid cooling system, the birds use air-cooling system.

Air-cooling system

You probably noticed above the photo, the female is tired and hot. She needs some rest. The male immediately takes over the job. Although he is not as quick as her, he is not inexperienced. When her rest ends and she returns, her looks are meaningful towards the work of the male as if she tries to mean that there are lacks. The nest is about to be finished. However, the nest cannot be left empty. A female that does not have a nest examines the nest.

That is normal but this nest has an owner and this is so risky for the new female, because the owner comes with rage. She tells that she is the owner of the nest in her own way. She has no intention to lose the nest which she has made to someone else. The female defends her nest successfully. However the ones who try to take over the nest are not only females. This time one another male comes while the male is in the nest. When the owner looks at the top of his nest, he comes across a penduline tit he does not want to see and reacts. The male also defeats the penduline tit that tries to take over the nest just like his female.

After the construction which took all the time of the male and female, their spending time outside the nest is the sign that the time for mating has come. The female seems like she is waiting for the movement of the male. While waiting, she makes her self-care. However, there is no one coming. She needs to change her place. And when she finds the correct place, the male flies to her enthusiastically.

This is the real example of having butterflies in the stomach. The female is also interested in the male, but showing her interest too much is not appropriate. The male should also make an effort to persuade. He needs to show the value of the female to her. The male tries to persuade the female wandering around the nest and calls her to the nest for mating. She approaches gradually and the male has his victory when she comes to the nest…

She comes to the nest

While giving privacy to penduline tits, we see whiskered terns keeping their migration from one watery land to another. After resting here for a few days, they will head to the north. During the migration, every watery land is a resting place for them. They both rest and feed. Thus, the protection of watery land cycle is very important.

Whiskered Terns

Meanwhile after mating, the change in the female can be seen. This is the sign that the female has laid eggs. Her tolerance towards the male is low. She is aware that she does not need the male now. Her aggressive behaviors are to send the male away. The male’s every effort is futile and his patience is about to end. And finally the female shows that she does not want him. This is sad for him, but the life goes on. Since it is the beginning of the season, he still has a chance to have a family.

This is absolutely normal for both male and female penduline tits. The care by both of the parents is rare. This behavior model is actually compulsory. The penduline tits reach to the highest numbers of babies and breeding. Actually this is a model that the male and female fulfill for the continuity of their generation. In other words, the female knows that she will raise the babies alone and the male knows that he will spend all seasons creating nests. Therefore, this turns into a sell-out theatre in every season. The male is ready for this situation he lives every year. Actually he seems to have made alternative plans before the black day comes.

There is a nest half of which is completed on a nearby willow tree. After sent away from the nest, he looks for a new female. Again he calls for a female with what he has. In the main nest, there is only the female. After sending the male away, the mother candidate completely dedicates herself-to her eggs. They are the focus of her life. Until the air temperature comes to a suitable level, she spends her time sitting on the eggs. She comes out only after the nest takes sunlight. While the complicated story of the penduline tits continues, we can no longer see the little bitterns. They are not moving freely compared to the past. There is rush in their movements. These attitudes are the sign that they have a nest now. We are right about our guess. There it is the nest of the little bitterns.

The little bitterns

It is a well camouflaged nest not as good as the penduline tits’ just half a meter high from the water level in the reeds. The nest attitudes of the little bitterns are so different from the penduline tits. Both male and female are responsible from the babies and the eggs. An ideal family model. Moreover the female and the male sit on the eggs with turns. In order to continue the generations, there is difference in the work order of the penduline tits, while there is equality in the little bitterns. When the fired male finds a new female, everything seems fine in the nests.

However, these peaceful days will not continue because there are black clouds in the horizon to examine the baby birds. The storm is coming…

The storm

Will the branches of the willow tree resist to the storm or will the nests survive after the rain? All these are the forerunner that the struggle of the penduline tit will continue…

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