A Look at Some of the Birds of Japan
By Awake! correspondent in Japan
I HAVE walked many miles in the countryside of Japan, from its mountains and terraced fields to its seashores. Along the way, I have had numerous opportunities to observe some of its 500 types of birds. Allow me to introduce a few of them to you.
LONG-TAILED TIT: It was winter and the ground was frozen. I was glad to have warm boots and thick stockings as I explored the hills near Chiba City.
In a clearing I spotted a flock of about 15 long-tailed tits—what we call the enaga. But when I tried to get close they eluded me. Tired of the pursuit, I sat down under a low-lying tree. And to my surprise the flock returned and came to rest in the very tree under which I sat. I didn’t move.
The enaga are beautiful, petite birds with a white head and a body of pink, black and white. They seem to flow rather than fly through the trees in a never-ending game of leapfrog. THE BLACK-EARED KITE, called tobi in Japan, is a year-round resident. This bird is big—two feet (60 cm) long, and thick-bodied with long wings and fork-tipped tail. Though dark brown, he is easy to see when he slowly and gracefully soars in the sky. The tobi particularly likes hillsides near the seashore, although he can be seen almost anywhere. His diet is one of fish and mice. But he also helps keep the countryside clean by eating carrion.
One day, when taking a winter walk by the ocean, I saw some large tobi sitting on some old fence posts. I could see their big, taloned feet and sharp-hooked beaks. And I must admit it was a bit disconcerting to see them staring at me.
THE HOUSE SWALLOW is more or less a summer visitor. I first saw these daredevil pilots in the town of Takasaki, where they would fly down the street, often at head level. They seem to be oblivious to people. On narrow streets just crammed with bicycles, motorbikes, cars and rushing shoppers, they dart in and out. At the very last moment they swoop right over a person!
THE DAURIAN REDSTART, known here as jō-bitaki. It was near the town of Mobara—an excellent bird-watching area—that I first saw this impressive bird. First I saw the male—about six inches (15 cm) long, bright-colored (predominant hues of black, orange and white) and handsome. Then, the female—sleek and demure, light olive in color. This attractive couple often pay a visit to a person’s garden.
The jō-bitaki comes as a winter refugee from Siberia. While other birds head farther south, the jō-bitaki is happy to spend its winter in Japan. After Siberia, the winter winds of Japan must seem balmy.
THE JAPANESE CRANE, which we call tanchō, can be found in the marshlands and fields. These beautiful cranes, few in number, are protected by law. Six other varieties of cranes share the marshlands with the tanchō, but he is the only permanent resident.
WHITE EGRETS are very much a part of the Japanese countryside. During the summer, they are found in flooded rice fields and in shallow river water. They are usually busy catching little things to eat. But they have a particular fondness for fish and frogs. Taking slow, deliberate steps, they stir up their “meal.” And if they spot something worthwhile, their long necks and slender bills move fast.
Observe closely and you will see that there are three types of white egrets, not just one. These are conveniently named “little,” “intermediate” and “large,” and they are from two to three feet (60-90 cm) in length.
Indeed, the islands of Japan are rich in birdlife. Such a fine balance and harmony exists between these creatures and their environment!
Why not take the time to examine the birdlife in your locality? But be careful when doing so. A startled bird that is nesting might abandon or even harm her young. So observe, but do not disturb. You can thus gain not only much pleasure but also deeper appreciation of the Creator who made these lovely winged creatures for our enjoyment.