Reed Parrotbill. Far left: Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, May 2010. Upper middle: Yangkou, October 2010. Bottom middle and far right: Nanhui, Shanghai, May 2016.

Reed Parrotbill, Symbol of Shanghai

Did you know that Shanghai is going to have a municipal bird? Guess what the two main candidates are: Light-vented Bulbul and Reed Parrotbill. Although I can understand why Light-vented Bulbul needs to be in the running, Reed Parrotbill is clearly the better choice. Let me tell you why.

Reed Parrotbill, Iron Track, 5 Nov. 2016.
Reed Parrotbill, lively little sprite of the Shanghai reed beds. Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), Pudong, 5 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

The argument for Light-vented Bulbul is that it is a bird of the people. As the versatile little bird lives even in the deepest recesses of the urban jungle, many Shanghai residents are familiar with it. Reed Parrotbill, by contrast, is less well-known.

One reason Reed Parrotbill is less known, of course, is that the reeds that used to cover the coastline and line the banks of the Yangtze River are disappearing. The disappearance of those reeds is perhaps the best reason to make Reed Parrotbill the municipal bird.

Reed Parrotbill, Iron Track, Nanhui, 5 Nov. 2016.
Reed Parrotbill is a curious little bird and will often shimmy up the reed to see what’s going on. Iron Track, 5 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

The choice of Reed Parrotbill would be a bold endorsement of Natural Shanghai, the city at the mouth of Asia’s greatest river and on Earth’s greatest migratory flyway. It would be a way of saying that Earth’s largest city values not only Reed Parrotbill but also the threatened habitat in which Reed Parrotbill lives.

The choice of Light-vented Bulbul, by contrast, would constitute a failure of imagination. It would be not a celebration of Natural Shanghai but a ratification of the environmental degradation afflicting this city. Light-vented Bulbul is a species that thrives in the degraded habitats that are all too common in Shanghai.

Reed Parrotbill, Nanhui, 17 May 2016.
In breeding season Reed Parrotbill is more conspicuous than at other times of the year. Here’s one in the reeds near Microforest 2, Nanhui, 17 May 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

The choice of Reed Parrotbill for municipal bird is far more than a political statement. The bird is full of personality and is beautiful, with rusty flanks, a grey head with a long black eyebrow, and a big yellow bill. The latter it uses to pry open reeds to get the insect larvae inside.

Reed Parrotbill is not a birder's bird but the people's bird. It is a species totally dependent on reeds, a plant that is part of the very fabric of Shanghai.
Reed Parrotbill is not just a birder’s bird but is the people’s bird. Paradoxornis heudei is a species totally dependent on reeds, a plant that is part of the very fabric of Shanghai. Reed Parrotbill represents well the natural heritage of Earth’s greatest city. Nanhui, 30 March 2014. (Craig Brelsford)

Reed Parrotbill has a varied repertoire of calls, all lively and colorful. To this day the calls and song of this species are among the most common bird sounds heard at Nanhui and on Hengsha Island and Chongming Island.

The chirr sound is perhaps the best-known. I recorded all the sounds below at Nanhui, with the exception of “siren,” recorded on Chongming. Enjoy them and get to know Shanghai’s best choice for municipal bird, Reed Parrotbill.

chirr (00:03; 930 KB)

insistent (00:05; 1 MB)

plaintive (00:04; 958 KB)

merry (00:20; 1.6 MB)

siren (00:04; 954 KB)

CONSERVATION STATUS

Because of the continued degradation and reclamation of the reed-bed habitat on which it is totally dependent, Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei is listed by IUCN as Near Threatened. In Chinese it is known as “Chinese Parrotbill” (Zhèndàn Yāquè, 震旦鸦雀). Nearly its entire range is in China, from Heilongjiang south to Zhejiang. Small parts of its distribution spill over into Mongolia and the Russian Far East.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you agree that Reed Parrotbill should be the municipal bird of Shanghai? Would you prefer another species? Readers want to know what you think! Leave a comment below.

115 SPECIES AT PUDONG SITES

Our partner Mike May got this image of a Yellow-breasted Bunting feeding on rice near Luchao. The endangered buntings were found at the spot we call the Marshy Agricultural Land (). On 5 Nov. 2016 we first found Yellow-breasted Bunting there. We returned on 8 Nov., when Mike got this shot, as well as 9 Nov., finding the species there each time.
Our partner Mike May got this image of a Yellow-breasted Bunting feeding on rice near Luchao. The endangered bunting was found at the spot we call the Marshy Agricultural Land (30.850707, 121.863662). On 5 Nov. 2016 we first found Yellow-breasted Bunting there. We returned on 8 Nov., when Mike got this shot, as well as 9 Nov., finding the species there each time. (Mike May)

Since last we posted, Elaine Du and I birded three days: Sat. 5 Nov., Tues. 8 Nov., and Wed. 9 Nov. 2016. We noted 115 species. At Nanhui’s defunct nature reserve (30.920507, 121.973159) we had Long-billed Dowitcher and Endangered Great Knot, and we noted the continued presence there of Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Dishui Lake (30.908702, 121.945124) yielded Smew, Greater Scaup, Black-necked Grebe, and an uncommon Shanghai record of Black Kite. We had Reed Parrotbill and Brown-cheeked Rail at a new site called the Iron Track (31.003613, 121.907883), and we went three-for-three with Endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting at a point (30.850707, 121.863662) north of Luchao, where we also attained an autumn record of Black-browed Reed Warbler. Drives along the sea-wall road gave us Amur Falcon and Peregrine Falcon, and Japanese Sparrowhawk dove for cover into Microforest 7.

Amur Falcon, 2 of 3 noted by us on 5 Nov. 2016 at Nanhui.
Amur Falcon, 2 of the 3 noted by us on 5 Nov. 2016 at Nanhui. (Craig Brelsford)

We found Tundra Swan (bewickii) on all three days, with a high count of 11 on 9 Nov. on the mudflats near Big Bend (31.000321, 121.938074). The previous evening near Big Bend we had a rare Shanghai record of Greater White-fronted Goose. In the mudflats north of South Lock (30.860073, 121.909997) we had Eurasian Curlew and a rare Shanghai record of Mew Gull Larus canus.

Among shorebirds, Dunlin and Kentish Plover not surprisingly were the most numerous. Careful scanning allowed us to sift out more southerly winterers such as the Great Knot as well as small numbers of Black-tailed Godwit, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, and Sanderling. Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull were at the defunct nature reserve.

Microforest 4 yielded Japanese Robin on 7 Nov., seen and photographed by Shanghai birder kaca. A careful search by us the following two days failed to turn up the rare passage migrant. On 5 Nov. we had a late record of Arctic Warbler. Other interesting passerines were Hair-crested Drongo and Naumann’s Thrush. Scaly-breasted Munia was at the Iron Track, we had season’s first Rustic Bunting, and the skies gave us Red-rumped Swallow and Asian House Martin.

On 5 Nov. Elaine and I were joined by Michael Grunwell, the Shanghai-based veteran British birder. On 8 Nov. we welcomed U.K. birder Mike May, and on 9 Nov. we partnered with U.S. birder Erica Locke.

PLEASE REPORT ABUSE

On 8 Nov. we found a bird photographer with a cage baited with mealworms. We asked him politely but firmly to put the cage away, and he complied. If you see persons trapping or otherwise abusing birds at Nanhui, call the forestry department at 21-51586246 or the Pudong New Area Wildlife Protection Station at 21-61872122.

PHOTOS

Hair-crested Drongo is an uncommon passage migrant in Shanghai. Photo by Mike May.
Hair-crested Drongo is an uncommon passage migrant in Shanghai. (Mike May)
Yellow-throated Bunting, Nanhui, 5 Nov. 2016.
Yellow-throated Bunting, Nanhui, 5 Nov. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Greater White-fronted Goose, Nanhui, 8 Nov. 2016. Rare Shanghai record.
Greater White-fronted Goose, Nanhui, 8 Nov. 2016. Rare Shanghai record. Digiscoped images by Elaine Du using Swarovski ATX-95 scope and iPhone 6. (Elaine Du)
A rather harried flock of Pied Avocet fly over the defunct wetland at Nanhui, 9 Nov. 2016. The avocets were often interrupting their feeding and resting to make a circular flight before settling back down at more or less the same location.
A rather harried flock of Pied Avocet fly over the defunct wetland at Nanhui, 9 Nov. 2016. The avocets were often interrupting their feeding to make a circular flight before settling back down at more or less the same location. (Craig Brelsford)

Featured image: Reed Parrotbill, a Chinese near-endemic, a species under threat, a bird of personality and beauty, and a symbol of Shanghai and the Chinese coast. Far left: Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu, May. Middle, top: Yangkou, October. Middle, bottom and far right: Cape Nanhui, May. (Craig Brelsford)

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. When he departed China, Craig was the top-ranked eBirder in the country, having noted 933 species, as well as the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai (323 species). A 1993 graduate of the University of Florida, Craig was an award-winning newspaper editor in the United States for 10 years. In 2002, Craig earned a master's in business administration from the University of Liege in Belgium. Craig lives in Debary, Florida with his wife, Elaine, and their son, Tiny.

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