Sunday, December 7, 2014

Malta's Smallest Breeding Bird

The zitting cisticola is a small bird found in southern Europe, Africa, and southern Asia its range extending to northern Australia. In Europe its range, like that of many other species of birds, insects and plants, is expanding northwards probably as a result of global warming.

It is Malta’s smallest breeding bird. It started to breed in the Maltese islands in 1973 and is now very common in fields and open areas. The pouch-like nest is built in clumps of grass.    

It is a small brown insect-eating bird. During the breeding season this bird is easy to see. The males spend a lot of time in the air displaying energetically. During the display the male flies around its territory constantly flying up and down and ‘zitting’ loudly. During winter they tend to sulk in the vegetation and to keep themselves well hidden. There is little difference between males and females and when the males are not displaying it is difficult to tell the two sexes apart.

Up to a few years ago the zitting cisticola was known as the fan-tailed warbler. Its name was changed to bring it in line with the other cisticola species to which it is related and to avoid confusion with an American bird which is also known as the fan-tailed warbler. Cisticolas are no longer considered as warblers and have been assigned a family of their own.

In Maltese it is known as bufula tal-imrewħa.

The male starts to build one or more nests and invites females to finish his work. Males can be polygamous or monogamous. The female then lays three to six eggs which hatch within ten days. As soon as the young hatch the females leaves the male’s territory and probably breeds with another male. The males tend to stay within the same territory. Young birds have been recorded breeding in the same season during which they were born.

Cisticolas are African birds. Of the 45 cisticola species only two do not live in Africa; one is found in Madagascar and the other in Asia and Australia

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 10 April 2014.

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