Irruption of Northern Long-tailed Tits into Beijing

I have quite a bit of catching up to do with blog posts.  There is a lot happening, which is good, and I’ll do my best to write some posts over the next few days.  First up is a short note about the ongoing irruption of Northern long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus 北长尾山雀 Běi cháng wěi shān què) into Beijing.

The first group of these charming birds was seen at the ChaoBai River on 10 October (Terry Townshend and Paul Holt) and, since then, they have been recorded at most birding sites, including many urban parks and even in residential compounds. Known by locals as ‘glutinous rice balls’, they have a high cute factor and are proving popular with birders and photographers alike.

At the same time there has been a noticeable, but on a smaller scale, irruption of Coal Tits (Periparus ater 煤山雀 Méi shānquè), usually scarce in lowland Beijing, and some record counts of Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes 锡嘴雀 Xī zuǐ què), including an impressive 247 at the ChaoBai River on 23 October (Paul Holt).  Some record counts of Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus 黄雀 Huáng què), with 347 recorded at Lingshan earlier this week (Paul Holt and Terry Townshend), notable numbers of Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea 白腰朱顶雀 Bái yāo zhū dǐng què) and a smattering of Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra 红交嘴雀 Hóng jiāo zuǐ què) have added to the ‘northern feel’.

The reason for irruptions such as these are poorly understood but likely to relate to food availability in the usual range further north.  

The movements seen in Beijing are clearly not unique.  Nial Moores in Republic of Korea reported on Facebook:

“Substantial movement of white headed long-tailed tits this winter into inner border region of South Korea too. Much more numerous than in last 5 winters or so. We also have big movements of coal tit at least locally (as locally in part of japan it seems) ; Red crossbills started to move in mid Oct(irruption in Japan too it seems); and eurasian bullfinches started about a week ago. Some treecreepers perhaps moving this winter too?”

The latter two species – Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula 红腹灰雀 Hóng fù huī què) and Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris 旋木雀 Xuán mù què) are both rare in Beijing, especially the former with fewer than half a dozen records and none since January 2020.  Could this be the year we see another?  And what else could be on the cards – possibly Varied Tit (Poecile varius 杂色山雀 Zá sè shān què) or even the previously unrecorded Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator 松雀 Sōng què)?  Time will tell!  Whatever happens, it promises to be an exciting winter of birding in the capital. 


Title image: one of a group of at least six Northern long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus 北长尾山雀 Běi cháng wěi shān què) on the wooded slopes of Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain in Mentougou District, on 31st October.