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Fire-Capped tit: Himalayan bird with orange flame

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The fire-capped tits have returned after decades to the Delhi NCR region (Photo: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

The fire-capped tit was perched on the topmost branch of the tree and it was so restless. It is like a heavy work bird - busy all the time. He does not have the time to sit in silence or inactivity. 

We were following a media report that a flock of fire-capped tits were sighted in Bhondsi in Gurgaon, in Haryana after decades. Experts said it was last seen in the National Capital Region in 1980 and before that it was spotted only in 1957. 

My photographer friends told me that a flock of the fire-capped tit is back again, for the second consecutive year. Seems they liked the place during the lockdown. 

“Focus on pictures now...” I was told. 

A female fire-capped tit (Photo: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

There was a big flock and the forest reverberated with their 'twitchable' sound. The flock showed its activities exceptionally well for the next hour or so, feeding constantly, pecking flower fruits. It was seemingly oblivious to our presence below the tree. These birds are also called as ‘Chickadees’ which is derived from their distinctive ‘chick-a dee dee dee’ alarm call.

It was breeding season for the species and male had a slight orange-scarlet colored crest. The eyebrow and around the eye is golden yellow tinged with red. The cheeks, ear coverts and sides of the neck are olive-yellow. The chin and upper throat are orange chrome, melting into golden yellow chest. The sides of the chest and the upper sides are yellow-olive. The rear flanks and belly are pale yellow. What a beautiful bird!

According to eBird website, more of a soft blush than a burning flame, the red patch on the male’s face is nonetheless unique. The female lacks the red patch, but is still distinctive in her size, small sharp bill, and pale wingbars. Both sexes are yellow above and pale gray below, with the male being more predominantly yellow than the female. The female is duller and bright orange colour was missing in them. The female lacks the red patch, but is still distinctive in her size, small sharp bill, and pale wingbars. 

Their song is an undulating series of twitters, chips, and trills; also twitters and trills when flocking. Their calls include a high-pitched but ample and jerky "tsit-tsit-tsit-tsit" at irregular intervals. Their contact call is a soft and low "whitoo-whitoo".

A male fire-capped tit (Photo: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

When singing, the male flies or sits on a high well exposed spot like the top of a tree. The song lasts several minutes. It consists of a series of rapid, high notes, forming well-constructed sentences, "pit'su-pit'su-pit'su-pit'su".

I was told the fire-capped tit (Cephalopyrus flammiceps ) was once considered to be a kinglet but is today treated as a tit. The tits are generalist insectivores that consume a wide range of small insects and other invertebrates, particularly small defoliating caterpillars. They also consume seeds and nuts, especially in the winter. One characteristic method of foraging in the family is hanging, where they will inspect a branch or twig and leaves from all angles while hanging upside down to feed.

In Bangla this species is known as Sindur Sinthi Titpakh and I tried to find out what is the Hindi name but without any success. 

The fire-capped tit is classified as a ‘least concern’ (LC) species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means that its risk of extinction has been evaluated without much worry but apart from that not much study has been done about this species. 

Hopefully fire-capped tit will come back again next year, at the same time, at the same place. 

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