Our Team Achieved China’s Easternmost eBird Record of Great Tit

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Brelsford-mug
Brelsford

A shanghaibirding.com research team recorded Great Tit Parus major kapustini on 31 May in Jiayin County, Heilongjiang. On eBird the Jiayin County Great Tit is the easternmost ever recorded in China. We noted the individual at a point (48.979053, 130.019775) 170 m south of the Amur River in a tree-lined vegetable garden behind a large hotel.

Our major was operating in the zone of contact between Great Tit and Japanese Tit P. minor minor. On 29 May we found Japanese Tit 4.3 km (2.7 mi.) west of the Great Tit site in semi-open woodland along the Wuyun River (48.972709, 129.961132).

Great Tit and Japanese Tit were formerly thought to be races of P. major. Päckert et al. (2005) argued for the elevation to species status of Japanese Tit P. minor. Support for their proposal came largely from studies on the Russian side of the middle Amur valley (156, 171). Our team was operating on the Chinese side, directly across the river.

From each bird we immediately got a strong impression of either Great Tit or Japanese Tit. That the birds we studied, despite being in the hybrid zone, should be pure or nearly pure major or minor would come as no surprise to Päckert et al.: “The contact zone in the middle Amur valley apparently produces hybrids in a limited area and to a limited extent” (2005, 171). Kvist et al. however caution that hybrids may be more plentiful than Päckert et al. report and that birds that look like one species may be hybrids (2007, 208).

Habitat supports our identifications. Päckert et al. write, “Although both forms meet in the outskirts of small towns and villages, they basically differ in habitat preference[,] with major inhabiting human settlements and minor preferring forest habitats” (2005, 170). The garden in which we found our major is in the village of Jiayin Farms, while the riparian woodland in which we found minor is 400 m from the nearest human settlement.

Various authors document the expansion of the range of Great Tit in the Russian Far East. “Great Tit has spread … into Amurland in SE Siberia, following the expansion of cultivation” (Harrap and Quinn 1995, 358). Päckert et al. report major in the Amur valley as far east as Khabarovsk (2005, 166). eBird has records around that city and even further downriver at Komsomolsk-on-Amur (2024b). Kapitonova et al. also document the advance of major into Komsomolsk (2011, 896).

On the Chinese side of the Amur, the status of major is less clear. If increased economic activity on the Russian side is leading to an expansion there of the range of major, then similar developments on the Chinese side could be having the same effect on a species famous for its readiness to live alongside man. Birders on the Chinese side of the Amur should be on the lookout for Great Tit, especially in towns and villages along the river east of our site. More records of major from the Chinese side will help delineate the southern boundary of the zone of contact between major and minor.

SOUND-RECORDINGS

Both recordings capture the response of an individual initially stimulated by playback of a Great Tit from European Russia (https://xeno-canto.org/32820). As the bird drew closer, I continued stimulating it with playback of its own song.

Great Tit Parus major kapustini, song (3 strophes), garden behind Double Dragon Business Hotel (双龙商务宾馆; 48.979053, 130.019775), Jiayin Farms (嘉荫农场), Heilongjiang, China, 31 May, by Craig Brelsford (0:18; 3 MB)

Recording:

Spectrogram showing final 2 of the 3 strophes:

screenshot of Great Tit spectrogram

Japanese Tit Parus minor minor, song (1 strophe), Wuyun River Bridge (48.972692, 129.962264), Jiayin County, Heilongjiang, 29 May, by Craig Brelsford (0:04; 864 KB)

Recording:

Spectrogram (complete):

screenshot of Japanese Tit spectrogram

PHOTOS & MAP

Brelsfords birding
The Great Tit in Heilongjiang Research Team. L–R: my wife, Heilongjiang native Elaine Du; I, Craig Brelsford; our daughter, Phoebe, age 3; and our son, ‘Tiny’ Craig, age 6. Elaine and I planned our expedition carefully. Wanting a project that would stimulate us while giving the children something they could relate to, we chose a search for Great Tit along the Chinese side of the Amur River. Like millions of children in Europe, Tiny and Phoebe connected immediately with the charismatic parid, renowned for its beautiful black and yellow coloration and readiness to live alongside man. Great Tit is also a favorite of mine; I gained an acquaintance with the species living in The Netherlands in the early 2000s. With this latest tick of kapustini, I have recorded the taxon in every province in which it occurs in China: Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and now Heilongjiang. (Craig Brelsford)
Great Tit Complex
Range of the Great Tit complex, with majorminor hybrid zone indicated. Parus major occurs throughout much of the temperate Palearctic, from Ireland and northwest Africa to Heilongjiang and the Sea of Okhotsk (Harrap and Quinn 1996, 356; eBird 2024c). The range of P. minor follows a southwestward trajectory from southern Kamchatka (Harrap and Quinn 1996, 357, 358; eBird 2024d) and southern Sakhalin to the eastern Tibetan Plateau, encompassing parts of the mainland Russian Far East, most of Heilongjiang, and most of eastern China as well as Japan and the Korean Peninsula. In recent decades, the ranges of both species have been expanding, notably in Chinese Manchuria and the Russian Far East (Kapitonova et al. 2011, 896, 900–907). The size and boundaries of the zone of contact are constantly evolving and imperfectly understood, especially on the Chinese side. Data from eBird suggest a zone extending from Heihe-Blagoveshchensk downriver as far as Komsomolsk-on-Amur (eBird 2024a, 2024b, 2024e, 2024f, 2024g, 2024h). These records comport with Kapitonova et al. They describe a zone extending from near Heihe-Blagoveshchensk to a northern prong, established around the beginning of the 21st century, ending at Komsomolsk and another recently established southern prong extending to Bidzhan and Khabarovsk (2011, 907). The latter two places are close to the Chinese side of the Amur and are well east of our team’s site. (L. Shyamal via Wikimedia Commons/Craig Brelsford)
Great Tit
Great Tit Parus major kapustini, found 31 May in a birch-lined vegetable garden (48.979053, 130.019775) in Jiayin Farms (嘉荫农场), a village on the Amur River. On eBird, the world’s largest birding database, our record is the first for Jiayin County and Yichun Prefecture and a new easternmost record for Heilongjiang and China. Nikon D3S and Nikon 600 mm f/4, 1/800, f/4, ISO 800, hand-held. (Craig Brelsford)
Great Tit
Occurring in the contact zone between P. major kapustini and P. minor minor, this large, long-tailed, intensely yellow-breasted male, if not 100 percent kapustini genetically, is nonetheless strongly so morphologically. In the middle Amur valley, Päckert et al. write, ‘[T]wo separate major and minor gene pools locally coexist … and are separated by at least partial reproductive barriers’ (2005, 169). Kvist et al., however, point out that in the contact zone, even birds morphologically strongly major could be hybrids (2007, 208). (Craig Brelsford)
Great Tit
Another view of the Great Tit in the garden behind Double Dragon Business Hotel. I was impressed by the large size of this bird (truly a ‘great’ tit) and the alacrity and power with which it sang. From my position toward the front of the large hotel building, I played through my Bose SoundLink Flex portable speaker the song of a Great Tit from European Russia. Though the building was partly blocking us, and despite the roar of a kitchen exhaust fan and the clattering of tractors, this male heard the song and immediately responded. Its song was strikingly loud. (Craig Brelsford)
Japanese Tit
Japanese Tit Parus minor minor, Wuyun River Bridge (48.972692, 129.962264), 29 May. Though playback of a Great Tit from European Russia elicited from this individual a strong territorial response, morphologically, this bird is strongly minor. The classic greyish-white underparts of Japanese Tit are the most obvious character. To my eyes, this tit looked no different from the Japanese Tit that I have observed far to the south in Shanghai and elsewhere in eastern China. Habitat also points to minor. The Wuyun River site is semi-wooded and lies 400 m from the nearest village. Päckert et al. (2005, 170) and Harrap and Quinn point out that in the hybrid zone, minor tends to live ‘away from areas where it overlaps with the major group’ (1996, 358). (Craig Brelsford)
wuyun river bridge
Sign for Wuyun River Bridge (48.972709, 129.961132), Wuyun River in background. This excellent, well-wooded riparian site yielded Japanese Tit as well as other species representative of the region, among them Eastern Crowned Warbler, Grey-backed Thrush, and Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (Brelsford and Du 2024a). The bridge lies 4.3 km (2.7 mi) west of Double Dragon Business Hotel and 3200 m (1.96 mi) from the Amur River. (Craig Brelsford)

Great Tit habitat
Large, tree-lined vegetable garden at Double Dragon Business Hotel (48.979053, 130.019775). The Amur River and Sino-Russian border lie beyond the trees far R. Our Great Tit was using the entire line of trees visible here. This classic Great Tit habitat differs much from the riparian woodland at Wuyun River Bridge. Throughout their vast ranges, open woodland and analogous man-made habitats, such as parks and wooded gardens, attract both Great Tit and Japanese Tit. However, in the hybrid zone, it is Great Tit that one is more likely to see in such habitats. According to Harrap and Quinn, Great Tit since the 1980s has been expanding into Amurland with the spread of cultivation, and ‘[I]t is still associated there exclusively with human habitations’ (1995, 358). Although on the Chinese side, with its paucity of records, the tendencies of Great Tit are less clear, one can expect, especially in towns and villages abutting the river, a situation similar to that of adjacent Russia. (Craig Brelsford)
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brelsford, Craig, and Elaine Du (2024a). eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S177938323. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Checklist from Wuyun River Bridge, 29 May 2024.

Brelsford, Craig, and Elaine Du (2024b). eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S178294254. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Checklist from Double Dragon Business Hotel, 31 May 2024.

eBird (2024a). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit1/CN-23. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Great Tit Parus major, Heilongjiang, China.

eBird (2024b). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit1/RU-KHA. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Great Tit Parus major, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia.

eBird (2024c). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit1/RU-MAG. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Great Tit Parus major, Magadan Oblast, Russia.

eBird (2024d). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit4/RU-KAM. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Japanese Tit Parus minor, Kamchatka Krai, Russia.

eBird (2024e). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit4/CN-23. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Japanese Tit Parus minor, Heilongjiang, China.

eBird (2024f). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit4/RU-KHA. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Japanese Tit Parus minor, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia.

eBird (2024g). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit4/RU-AMU. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Japanese Tit Parus minor, Amur Oblast, Russia.

eBird (2024h). eBird Species Page: https://ebird.org/species/gretit1/RU-AMU. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Accessed: 19 Jul 2024. Note: Species page for Great Tit Parus major, Amur Oblast, Russia.

Gosler, A. G. and P. Clement. Family Paridae (Tits and Chickadees). Pp. 739–741 in: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliot, and D. A. Christie, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 12. Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain, 2007.

Harrap, Simon and David Quinn. Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches, & Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, 1996.

Kapitonova, L. V., S. M. Smirenskiib, D. S. Selivanovab, V. V. Fedorovb, and N. A. Formozov. “The History of Ranges of the Great Tit (Parus major) and Japanese Tit (Parus minor) in the Amur Region.” Biology Bulletin 38, no. 9 (2011): 896–910. https://dx.doi.org/10.1134/S1062359011090044

Kvist, Laura, Tayebeh Arbabi, Martin Päckert, Markku Orell, and Jochen Martens. “Population differentiation in the marginal populations of the great tit (Paridae: Parus major).” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 90 (2007): 201–210. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8312.2007.00726.x

MacKinnon, John. Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, 2022.

Päckert, Martin, Jochen Martens, Siegfried Eck, Alexander A. Nazarenko, Olga P. Valchuk, Bernd Petri, and Michael Veith. “The great tit (Parus major) – a misclassified ring species.” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 86 (2005): 153–174. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8312.2005.00529.x

FURTHER READING

shanghaibirding.com offers the world’s most complete coverage of birding Heilongjiang, Northeast China, and Siberia and the Russian Far East. Click any link:

Band-bellied Crake

Band-bellied Crake and Other Northeast China Specialties: Birding eastern Heilongjiang in May and June, the height of breeding season, our team noted Band-bellied Crake, found breeding Eurasian Eagle-Owl and Mandarin Duck, and recorded secretive species Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler.

White-throated Rock Thrush

Birds of the Remnant Manchurian Forest: Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford became the first birders to survey Xidaquan, a vast forest reserve in Elaine’s home county of Boli in eastern Heilongjiang. The duo noted 91 species around Xidaquan, among them Ural Owl and regional breeders Eastern Crowned Warbler, Radde’s Warbler, and White-throated Rock Thrush.

Jankowski’s Bunting

Jankowski’s Bunting and Other Northeast China Species: A shanghaibirding.com research team found Jankowski’s Bunting in Inner Mongolia and counts of up to 600 Siberian Crane in Jilin. Tumuji wetland yielded Red-crowned Crane and Oriental Stork as well as flocks of hundreds of geese, and at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang the team had Swan Goose and White-naped Crane.

Blakiston's Fish Owl

Birding Siberia and the Russian Far East: Read our reports on Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve, home of Blakiston’s Fish Owl, the Yamal Peninsula, and Kamchatka. For birders in Shanghai, an understanding of the birds of Siberia and the Russian Far East is crucial, as many species that are winter visitors and passage migrants in Shanghai breed in North Asia.

Featured photo: Great Tit Parus major kapustini sings from a birch at Jiayin Farms, Heilongjiang, China, 31 May. The record of this species by the shanghaibirding.com team of Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, “Tiny” Craig Brelsford, and Phoebe Brelsford is the easternmost ever on eBird in China. (Craig Brelsford)

Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

Be notified every time we post. Send an
email with “Subscribe” as the subject to
info@shanghaibirding.com

Donate to Shanghai Birding!





Shanghai Birding 上海观鸟