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These Tiny Birds in Japan Look Like Fluffy Little Cotton Balls

Long Tailed Tit in Hokkaido Perched on a Tree

Photo: Stock Photos from makieni/Shutterstock

In Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island, fluffy white little birds flitter through the trees. They look like white cotton balls bouncing around and are beloved by the Japanese, who call them Shima enaga. In English, they’re known as long-tailed tits, though this particular subspecies is only found in Hokkaido.

What makes Hokkaido’s long-tailed tits so special? All members of the species are tiny, measuring 13 to 15 centimeters long—and half of that is tail! But in Hokkaido, these tits have a characteristic that adds to their cuteness. Typically, long-tailed tits have distinct black “eyebrows” that sweep above their eyes. However, the tits in Hokkaido lose their eyebrows as they transition into adulthood, leaving them with a pure white face that makes them look like little snowmen.

They live year-round in Hokkaido, where their snow-white faces certainly help them blend in during the island’s long winters. These energetic birds typically move in flocks of 20 to 30 and perform acrobatic tricks as they flutter around. While their small size makes them vulnerable during cold winters, their broods always rebound due to the sheer number of eggs they lay. Typically, they’ll lay 7 to 10 eggs so that even if some don’t survive, enough chicks hatch to keep the population numbers up.

Raising these adorable birds is a community undertaking, with other adult long-tailed tits who have failed to breed often stepping in to help feed all the hungry mouths. They’ll take turns with the parents bringing insects back to the nest until the chicks grow old enough to fend for themselves.

Though the long-tailed tit is widespread from Western Europe across Russia all the way to Japan, there’s nothing quite like Hokkaido’s unique version. With their fluffy little round bodies, it’s no wonder they’ve been transformed into adorable stuffed animals.

Long-tailed tits are tiny birds that can be found across Europe and Asia.

Aegithalos caudatus japonicus

Photo: Stock Photos from makieni/Shutterstock

Aegithalos caudatus japonicus

Photo: Stock Photos from makieni/Shutterstock

In Hokkaido, the subspecies has a totally white face, which makes the birds look like fluffy cotton balls.

Long Tailed Tit in Japan

Photo: Stock Photos from ayu1125/Shutterstock

Long Tailed Tit in Japan

Photo: Stock Photos from Voodison328i/Shutterstock

Long Tailed Tit in Japan

Photo: Stock Photos from Tobyphotos/Shutterstock

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.

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