HBW 12 - Species accounts: Bearded Parrotbill (Panurus biarmicus)

1. Bearded Parrotbill

Panurus biarmicus  

French: Panure à moustaches  German: Bartmeise  Spanish: Bigotudo 

Other common names: Bearded Tit/Tit-babbler, (Bearded) Reedling, Whiskered Tit  

Taxonomy.[ Parus] biarmicus Linnaeus, 1758, Europe = Holstein, north Germany. Range of plumage variation considered by some authors to be perhaps at least partly clinal, such that the species may be better treated as monotypic. Unclear whether populations of E Baltic (between Finland and Poland) belong to nominate race or russicus, which presumably intergrade in Poland and Slovakia and perhaps elsewhere in E Europe. Birds in E Turkey, Georgia and Armenia presumably like those from Azerbaijan, presently included in nominate; racial identity of those breeding in Syria uncertain, tentatively included inkosswigi. Three subspecies currently recognized.  

Subspecies and Distribution. P. b. biarmicus (Linnaeus, 1758) – breeds locally in England, France and S & E Spain E to S Norway, Denmark, S Sweden, S Finland, SW Russia, Balkans, W & S Turkey and Azerbaijan; non-breeding also S to Cyprus. P. b. russicus (C. L. Brehm, 1831) – breeds south Lithuania, Poland and Belarus S to E Austria, NE Croatia, NE Bosnia-Herzegovina, N Serbia & Montenegro, N & E Bulgaria and C Turkey, E to S Russia (S from L Chany, SW Siberia and Tarbagatay, and S of L Baikal), Kazakhstan, Mongolia and N & NE China (Xinjiang, N Qinghai, W & NE Nei Mongol, Ningxia, NE Heilongjiang); non-breeding also Israel, N Iran (mainly Caspian coast), E China (N Hebei and SC Liaoning) and NE Afghanistan (may breed). P. b. kosswigi Kumerloeve, 1958 – S Turkey (area around Amik Gölü, at least) and NW Syria.

Descriptive notes. 14·5–17 cm; 11–20·8 g. The only sexually dimorphic parrotbill. Male nominate race has medium blue-grey or ash-grey forehead to nape, and sides of head and neck (from below eye backwards), often hint of darker lateral crownstripe, with black lores, cheek and long moustachial and malar areas usually narrowly whitish-bordered above lores and at rear; upperparts pale rufous-chestnut, outer scapulars buffier to buffish-white, uppertail-coverts with slight vinous-pink tinge; flight-feathers and primary coverts dark brownish-grey to greyish-black, primaries P6–P9 and their coverts with narrow white outer fringes (forming distinct white panel on closed wing), P1–P5, P10, secondaries and other primary coverts with rufous-chestnutouter edges (but white towards base of P1–P5), tips of secondaries and inner primaries narrowly fringed pink-cinnamon or cream-buff (inner webs more broadly so); outer two tertials black on shaft and outer web, white or cream-pink on inner web, innermost tertial largely white, tertial fringes pale rufous-chestnut to pink-cream; greater and median upperwing-coverts black with rufous-chestnut fringes (broadest on outer greaters), lesser coverts mottled pale grey, buff and creamy white, alula black with broad white fringe along outer web; uppertail pale rufous-chestnut or cinnamon-chestnut with slight grey wash, tips of feathers T3 and T4 with slight pale ash-grey wash, tips and outer webs of T5 and T6 extensively pale ash-grey (whiter than T3 and T4) and with variable amount of black at base, some blackish often present also on outer fringes and tips of T3–T 6 and occasionally on tips of T1 and T2; throat white to creamy, breast centre either white with faint grey wash or tinged vinous-pink, belly centre creamy buff, flanks as mantle and scapulars or slightly paler, undertail-coverts black; in worn plumage (spring and early summer), head duller grey (less bluish), mantle, scapulars and central rectrix paler (buffier), more cream and white of outer scapulars visible, uppertail-coverts more extensively vinous-pink, throat and centre of abdomen sometimes more extensively white to creamy (but belly side often less so), and tail tips heavily abraded; iris yellow or light orange-yellow, rarely dark brown, greyish-yellow or yellow-brown, generally brighter yellow-orange in spring; bill orange-yellow, orange-brown or bright orange; legs black, occasionally with brown or yellow-brown tinge, exceptionally bright yellow. Female has drab brown forehead to nape, often some black spots/mottling on centre, side or rear of crown (sometimes in pattern of two rough lateral crownstripes which coalesce on nape), occasionally completely streaked black (except for forehead and supercilium); upperparts similar to those of male but a little duller, usually some black streaks on lower mantle, inner scapulars and back, sometimes heavily streaked, the streaks coalescing to form black patch on lower mantle; lores mottled dull grey and pale buff, cheek and head side behind eye pale grey with variable vinous-pink tinge, ear-coverts and neck side tinged warm buff to variable extent, occasionally some black spots or shaft streaks on lower cheek; wings as male, but white fringes of outer primary coverts less pronounced and tinged buff, fringes along outer webs and tips of secondaries, tertials, inner primaries and greater upperwing-coverts slightly paler; tail as that of male, but generally slightly paler-tinged; underside as male, but vinous-pink tinge usually paler and less extensive, flanks paler (less rufous), abdomen centre often more extensively cream, undertail-coverts warm buff (not black); in worn plumage, slightly paler and greyer above, with more pronounced black markings (if present), uppertail-coverts extensively pale vinous-pink, largely dirty white below, with restricted pale vinous-pink on head side and upper flanks, pale buffy-brown lower flanks and undertail-coverts; bare parts as male, but iris yellow to reddish-amber in spring, bill yellow-brown, greenish-horn or grey-brown with yellow or yellow-orange cutting edges and lower mandible. Juvenile resembles female, but much buffier (less chestnut-tinged) above, on flanks and on central pair of tail feathers, has largely black lower mantle to back and rectrices T2–T6, blacker wings with pale fringes buffier and more restricted (those of P6–P9 creamy white), and duller underparts lacking vinous-pink tinge, young male with black lores, green-grey to yellow-green iris (week 3–6) becoming light yellow to orange around time of juvenile moult, bill yellow to orange, legs initially paler than adult, young female with lores dull grey with some buff mottling, bill horn-brown, grey-brown or blackish. Races vary mainly in depth of ground colour of head and body (both sexes) and in amount of black streaking on head and upperparts of female: russicus is paler than nominate, male crown pale blue-grey or pale ash-grey, mantle, scapulars and fringes of greater upperwing-coverts and secondaries more buffy rufous, mantle and scapulars sometimes tinged pink-grey, uppertail-coverts pale vinous-pink, female crown and upperparts only faintly streaked or unstreaked, underparts largely creamy white, buff tinge only on lower flanks and undertail-coverts, vinous-pink pale and restricted, juvenile has paler yellowish-buff base colour; kosswigi is similar to nominate, but has darker and more rufous-brown upperparts and flanks, male rather dark grey on head and intense vinous-pink on breast and belly side, with uppertail-coverts deep vinous-pink, female with very little black streaking on mantle and scapulars. Voice. Male’s song “tschin-dschik-tschraa” or “ts’chin-dschik-tschraa” lasting 2 seconds or slightly longer, with “tschraa” note harsher and second note shorter and softer than first, usually preceded by 3–5 introductory “tschin” notes (can be omitted if song quickly repeated); has also been described as “tschin-tik (tschri)-tschiuu”, final note more drawn out and melodious, and as loud “chveen-chveen”. Typical call a distinctive ringing “ping ping” or “tschin tschin”; plaintive “tuu” or “tjuu” notesfrom flocks often mixed with typical call; very soft “djipp” or “ djupp” contact calls; soft “pitt pitt” in vicinity of nest, also “tze-tze-tze” or “tje-tje-tje” by parents contacting fledged young; when excited, utters harder “tjick” or “tschick”, “tjipp” or “ ticc”, becoming sharper and more rapidly repeated as excitement increases; in alarm, scolding “ t-tzáaaah”, “schra”, “dschraaah” and “djschirr”, as well as guttural “p/whut”, plaintive “ee-ar, ee-ar” and churring “chirrr-irr-irrrrrr”.

Habitat.Extensive reedbeds (Phragmites) and associated dense non-woody vegetation in and beside fresh and brackish water, or immediately adjoining marshes and swamps; tussocky edges of reedbeds; stands of reeds and bulrushes (Typha) in marshes and along shores of lakes and rivers. Vagrants have been recorded in wild sugar cane (Saccharum) and tamarisk (Tamarix) scrub. From sea-level to medium elevations; to at least 3050 m in China (Qinghai).

Food and Feeding.Feeds mainly on invertebrates and their larvae in summer breeding season; vegetable matter in late autumn and winter. Summer diet includes, among others, springtails (Collembola), mayflies (of family Polymitarcidae), damselflies (Zygoptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera), bugs (Hemiptera, including Veliidae, Delphacidae, Aphididae), moths (of family Noctuidae), caddis flies (Trichoptera), craneflies (Tipulidae), mosquitos (Culicidae), non-biting midges (Chironomidae), gall midges (Cecidomyiidae), soldierflies (Stratiomyidae), Hymenoptera, beetles (of families Haliplidae, Dytiscidae, Hydrophilidae, Coccinellidae, Chrysomelidae, Curculionidae), spiders (Araneae) and slugs/snails (Gastropoda). Tends to catch relatively slow-moving insects, non-biting midges gathered from water’s edge featuring frequently in diet. During breeding season, may be able to catch large numbers of larvae or pupae of various wainscot moths (Hadeninae), pale cream caterpillars of which feed within reed stems but emerge to pupate; these caterpillars can sometimes be identified at long distances as primary foods brought to a nest. In late autumn and winter, diet consists mainly of seeds (also plant fibres), including those of bulrushes, sedges (Cyperaceae), reeds and various other grasses (Gramineae) and rushes (Juncaceae); those of common reed (Phragmites australis) the most widely sought-after. Wandering flocks sometimes found away from reeds, and have been noted as taking seeds of knotgrasses (Polygonaceae), goosefoots (Chenopodiaceae), common nettle (Urtica dioica), great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), willows (Salix), mints (Mentha), and sometimes sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). Diet of dependent young lacks plant material, but becomes more varied soon after independence. Forages in pairs and family parties, and in post-breeding flocks of up to 40–50 or even 200 or so. Feeding areas are typically near standing water, well separated from nesting areas; often feeds at base of reeds, forages also on muddy ground and at margins of open water. Regularly climbs to top of reed stems and flies short distances above reeds. Searches broken and cracked stems, and makes rapid darting movements to catch passing insects; sometimes hangs upside-down when feeding, and sometimes uses its bill or foot to pull a seedhead closer. Draws parts of reed-heads through its bill while nibbling to extract seeds. Hops and runs quickly on the ground, scratching earth and turning over reed leaves in search of food. In cold weather, feeds on fallen seeds and even probes snow.

Breeding.Season late Mar to early Sept in W Palearctic; regularly 2–4 broods. Monogamous, but bigyny also reported. Nest built by both sexes, a deep cup-shaped structure of dead reed blades and other marsh-plant leaves, lined with flowering reed-heads, usually also feathers and occasionally mammal hair (lining material often added through egg-laying and even incubation periods), nearly always roofed by sheltering vegetation, outer diameter 8–15 cm, height 6–23 cm, inner diameter 6–6·8 cm, cup depth 5–5·8 cm; placed 5–72 cm up (those above water typically higher) among close-growing and typically more or less vertical stems of reeds, sedges and other marsh vegetation, exceptionally built into rim of heron (Ardeidae) nest; artificial nests accepted. Clutch 3–11 eggs, usually 4–8, smooth and glossy, white to creamy, lightly and finely streaked and speckled dark brown, dimensions 14·5–19·7 × 12·4–15·1 mm; incubation by both sexes, period 10–14 days; chicks cared for by both parents, nestling period usually 12–13 days, sometimes up to 16 days, young may leave nest at 10 days if disturbed, and apparently typically leave before able to fly; rarely dependent for more than two weeks after having left nest.

Movements. European populations mainly fairly sedentary, but subject to eruptive post-breeding and wintering movements, sometimes resulting in establishment of new colonies; other erupting individuals return to source site to breed in following spring. Birds which leave breeding grounds for winter depart Sept–Nov (mainly Oct) and return Mar–May. Rapid increase in breeding population of the Dutch polders during 1950s and 1960s resulted in major irruptions during 1960s and 1970s across NW Europe. Vagrants of nominate race recorded in Republic of Ireland (bred 1976–1 985, at least) and N Africa (Morocco, Algeria), and of race russicus in Kuwait, Pakistan, Korea and Japan; erratic winter visitors to Syria not identified subspecifically.

Status and Conservation. Not globally threatened. Generally fairly common to common in places where established as a breeding species. Breeding numbers, however, may exhibit regular annual fluctuations, and have probably always risen and fallen locally, to considerable extent. Range currently expanding in much of Europe; has increased in some areas after an earlier decline, as well as colonizing new areas. Population is likely to increase further where winter weather conditions are becoming milder. In other regions (e.g. Turkey), breeding population thought to be decreasing, primarily as a result of drainage of marshland habitat. In S Turkey, race kosswigi has never been collected outside area around Amik Gölü, where it was present until at least 1956 but was apparently extinct by 1962.

Bibliography. Abdulali (1983), Adamian & Klem (1997), Ali & Ripley (1996), Anon. (1998), Aulén (1996), Bannerman & Bannerman (1958), Beaman & Madge (1998), Bibby (1983), Bories et al. (2000), Bradshaw (2000), Bradshaw & Kirwan (2000), Brazil (1991), Cai Qikan (1987), Cramp & Perrins (1993), Deignan (1964), Dementiev et al. (1970), van den Elzen (1993), Eskelin & Tolvanen (1999), Étchécopar & Hüe (1983), Evans (1994), Flint & Stewart (1992), Flint et al. (1984), Gorman (1996), Grimmett & Taylor (1992), Hagemeijer & Blair (1997), Handrinos & Akriotis (1997), Hartert (1907), Harvey (1986), Hornskov (1989, 1995), Hutchinson (1989), Inskipp et al. (1996), von Jordans & Steinbacher (1948), Kirwan (1998), Kirwan & Martins (1994), Kumerloeve (1958, 1963, 1969), Lack (1986), Lee Woo-Shin et al. (2000), Meyer de Schauensee (1984), Murdoch et al. (2004), Pfister (2000), Porter et al. (1996), Rasmussen & Anderton (2005), Ripley (1982), Rogacheva (1992), Roselaar (1995), Sien Yaohua et al. (1964), Sluys (1982, 1983), Spitzer (1972, 1973), Tavares et al. (2000), Tomialojc & Stawarczyk (2003), Vaurie (1959, 1972), Wawrzyniak & Sohns (1986), Williams (1994), Zheng Zuoxin (1987).