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South Island tomtit Female (New Zealand) | by |kris|
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South Island tomtit Female (New Zealand)

The tomtit (Petroica macrocephala) is a small passerine bird in the family Petroicidae, the Australian robins. Tomtits are endemic to New Zealand, ranging across the main islands as well as several of their offshore islands. The tomtit is a forest and shrubland inhabiting species of both native and exotic habitats. It is rarely seen in highly modified open habitats, such as farmland and suburbia. They are often heard giving contact calls or males singing, but are sometimes difficult to see. Individuals can be quite confiding, coming within a few metres.

 

Five subspecies of the tomtit are recognized, each species being restricted to each of the following islands or island groups: North Island (P. m. toitoi), South Island (P. m. macrocephala), the Snares Islands (P. m. dannefaerdi), the Chatham Islands (P. m. chathamensis) and the Auckland Islands (P. m. marrineri). Four of these five subspecies have been elevated to full species in the past (the Chatham subspecies was retained with the South Island tomtit), but genetic studies have shown that these subspecies diverged relatively recently. The Māori name of the North Island tomtit is miromiro, while the South Island tomtit is known as ngirungiru.

 

The tomtit is a small (13 cm, 11 g) bird with a large head and a short bill. An adult North Island male has a black head, upper chest, back, and wings (with one white wing bar across the bases of the flight feathers), a black tail with some white on some outer feathers, and white underparts (belly). The subspecies from South Island, the Chatham Islands and Auckland Islands are similar, but have a yellow and/or orange band across the breast between the black head and white belly. Juvenile males have duller plumage, and have subtle streaking on head as a result of white shafts of black feathers. Adult females are brown over the head, back and wings (white/buff wingbar present), and fawn on the upper chest which fades to white on the belly. Juvenile females are similar, but with faint streaking on the head. The Snares Island subspecies is entirely black, and is known as the black tit. The island subspecies of tomtits show a striking variation in body size, being considerably larger than their mainland relatives, a tendency known as the island rule. Birds from the main islands weigh around 11g, but birds from Snares Island weigh in at 20g.

 

On the North and South Islands, the breeding season extends mainly from September to February. During this period pairs are able to rear three broods, although very few achieve this because clutches and broods are taken by predators. Nests are well concealed in thick vegetation or shallow cavities, and most clutches consist of 3-4 eggs. While the female alone incubates the eggs, the male assists by providing food to his mate 2-3 times an hour. Both members of the pair feed nestlings and fledglings.

 

Tomtits remain on their territories throughout the year. During the moult, territorial activities, such as singing, boundary patrolling and chasing out intruders, are much reduced, but during the rest of the year, especially during the breeding season, both males and females are vigorous in territorial defence. While territorial adults are sedentary, juveniles and immatures looking for mates and vacant habitat sometimes disperse tens of kilometres, including crossing unsuitable habitat (e.g. open-country farmland) and over water.

 

Tomtits are mostly an insectivore, feeding on a wide range of small invertebrates such as beetles, caterpillars, spiders, moths (both adults and larvae), weta, earthworms and flies. Also, small fruit is taken during the winter and autumn, being swallowed whole. Tomtits search for prey at all levels in forest, from in emergents above the canopy to the ground. Their principle method of foraging involves scanning the surrounding area while perched on a branch or clinging to a trunk, and then flying forth to snatch up a prey item or moving to another perch to scan a new area. Insects are also gleaned from branches and leaves. They generally forage alone or in pairs, but occasionally associate with mixed-species foraging flocks.

Source: Wikipedia, nzbirdsonline.org.nz

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Taken on December 26, 2015