The Cyprus Coal Tit

05 October 2016

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The Cyprus Coal Tit Parus (or Periparus) ater cypriotes is the smallest bird species belonging to the Parid family. Parids are strongly associated with humans, especially in the northern hemisphere, where they are among the most familiar of all birds. The reason why humans have such fondness for parids is a result of the fact that they are usually quite tame and very willing  to accept food provided by people in feeders and bird tables. It is also linked with their willingness to use man-made nest boxes. Among them is also the Cyprus Coal Tit, a tiny but vivacious arboreal bird not easily intimidated by human presence. 

The Cyprus Coal Tit is a permanent resident in Cyprus, mostly found in Paphos and Troodos Forests and Mahairas mountains, but may also be seen in lower altitudes during winter. It is very easy to spot, as it flies from pine branch to pine branch in search of insects, larvae, insect eggs and spiders and it can often be heard chirping on the top of a high tree.

The Cyprus Coal Tit is one of the four endemic sub-species of birds found in Cyprus as it is very different from other sub-species of the Parus ater group that occur in continental Asia and Europe. It is much darker, with its back, wings and tail having a dark olive-brown tinge and its underside is much darker too. It also has more black on its head.

Endemic sub-species are of particular interest and are considered extremely important endemic taxa baring clear morphological differences from the related population in Europe. Monitoring and systematic research of endemic sub-species is very important as it could show that they represent an endemic species or it could clarify their evolutionary kinship to other subspecies. Some ornithologists believe that the Cyprus Coal Tit is an endemic species.

The Cyprus Coal Tit is a social species and, except during breeding season, can be found in small groups. It breeds between April and June and lays between 5 to 13 eggs in nests made of moss and feathers. Even though Coal Tits are treetop birds, preferentially seeking food in the crowns and upper branches of the trees, their nests, however, are usually found low, close to the ground, in holes and hollows of trees, in roots and stumps of dead trees and under rocks. The eggs hatch in about two weeks and the young are big enough to leave the nest when they are just three weeks old.

As it belongs to the strictly protected species listed on Annex I of Directive 2009/147/EC, the Cyprus Coal Tit is considered one of the seven most important breeding species of Pafos Forest area. The Pafos Forest SPA is the best area for this species in Cyprus with 20,000 to 30,000 pairs nesting in the area, while the entire population of the species in Cyprus is estimated at 30,000 – 60,000 pairs.

Coal Tits, being conifer specialists, live almost exclusively in conifer woods. The preference for conifers in this species is so strong that studies have shown that given the choice between a pine twig and an oak twig, a captive Coal Tit will prefer to perch on the pine twig instead of the other.

So next time you find yourself in Pafos Forest or Troodos mountains, enjoying the cool shade of the evergreen pine trees, keep an eye out for this tiny bird - you’ll be amazed by its acrobatic skills and its ability to hang upside down from tree branches. But be quick and sharp, as it is restless and very agile!

Photos
Cyprus Coal Tit
Cyprus Coal Tit
Cyprus Coal Tit
Cyprus Coal Tit

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