The common tailorbird, the “sewer”
Size: 10 to 14 cm Weight: 6 to 10 grams
The common tailorbid (Orthotomus sutorius) is a passerine bird hugely popular for its nest made of leaves “sewn” together. He is a common resident in urban gardens, open farmlands, forest edges and scrub.
The common tailorbird is found across the Indian subcontinent, southern China, southeastern Asia, the Malay Peninsula and Java.
Common tailorbirds have a a long upright tail, a greenish upper body plumage as well as a rust coloured forehead and crown.
The bird is seemingly tireless: hopping actively among bushes, hedges and trees to find tiny insects. Because of its weak and erratic flight, the common tailorbird is an easy target for predators. Hence it has to void open areas and flits swiftly from one patch of undergrowth to another.
Although shy birds that are usually hidden within vegetation, their loud calls are familiar and give away their presence. The song is a loud cheeup-cheeup-cheeup with variations across the populations. The disyllabic calls are repeated often.
Like most warblers, the common tailorbird is insectivorous. Tailorbird feeds on insects and other small invertebrates that abound in its tropical habitat. To creep in the undergrowth, it uses its bill and eat beetles, bugs, caterpillars and spiders from leaves, stems and branches. The bird is also able to reach deep into flowerheads and drink the sugary nectar. Swarms of flying termites provide food for many birds, and are particularly abundant in the rainy season. The tailorbird, being a less adept flier, must wait until the creatures land and shed their wings before gorging itself. Tailorbirds are in most ways, similar to other birds. They belong to the family of small birds that feed on insects, larvae or other such things. They usually keep on flying or resting on a tree or in their nest, but they can often be seen jumping on the ground, so that the worms could come out of their holes and they could fulfill their dietary needs, and could also feed their young ones.
The breeding season is March to December peaking from June to August in India, coinciding with the wet season. In Sri Lanka the main breeding periods are March to May and August to September, although they can breed throughout the year.
Although the name is derived from their nest construction habit, the nest is not unique and is also found in many Prinia warblers. The nest is a deep cup, lined with soft materials and placed in thick foliage and the leaves holding the nest have the upper surfaces outwards making it difficult to spot. The punctures made on the edge of the leaves are minute and do not cause browning of the leaves, further aiding camouflage. The nest lining of a nest in Sri Lanka that was studied by Casey Wood was found to be lined with lint from Euphorbia, Ceiba pentandra and Bombax malabaricum species. Jerdon wrote that the bird made knots, however no knots are used. Wood classified the processes used by the tailorbird in nest as sewing, rivetting, lacing and matting. In some cases the nest is made from a single large leaf, the margins of which are rivetted together. Sometimes the fibres from one rivet are extended into an adjoining puncture and appearing more like sewing. The stitch is made by piercing two leaves and drawing fibre through them. The fibres fluff out on the outside and in effect they are more like rivets. There are many variations in the nest and some may altogether lack the cradle of leaves. One observer noted that the birds did not utilize cotton that was made available while another observer, Edward Hamilton Aitken, was able to induce them to use artificially supplied cotton. The usual clutch is three eggs.
The incubation period is about 12 days. Both male and female feed the young. Mortality of eggs and chicks is high due to predation by rodents, cats, crow-pheasants, lizards and other predators. The young birds fledge in about 14 days. The female alone incubates according to some sources, while others suggest that both sexes incubate; however, both parents take part in feeding and sanitation. The males are said to feed the incubating female. An unusual case of a pair of tailorbirds adopting chicks in an artificially translocated nest belonging to a different pair has been recorded. Nests are sometimes parasitized by the Plaintive Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus).
Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Common to locally common throughout wide range. This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
French: Couturière à longue queue
German : Rotstirn-Schneidervogel
Spanish : Sastrecillo Común
Italian : Uccello sarto codalunga
Russian : Славка-портниха
Fun fact about tailorbirds
Tailorbirds get their name from the way their nest is constructed. The edges of a large leaf are pierced and sewn together with plant fibre or spider silk to make a cradle in which the actual nest is built.
The name of this bird says a lot. As it specifies, they are known for the process of tailoring their nets. The process is not much complicated, but every bird is not equipped with the ability to do the same. These birds simple fold up a leave, punch holes in the meeting side with the help of their beak, and weave the two open ends with the help of a dried up stem of a plant or a spider web. Yes, they even make use of home of a spider to build their own home. After properly joining the two ends, they deposit the conventional hay and other materials inside the leaf to build a proper house to live in. They lay their eggs and can seal up the leaf if required, as a prevention measure from their prey or to protect themselves from the temperature. These stitching abilities are usually found only in female birds.
A tailorbird pair forms a long-term bond and lives within a static territory all year. The birds remain in constant contact with each other, uttering a surprisingly loud, monotonous call: chee-up, chee-up.When danger threatens, such as the appearance of a shikra — the common small sparrowhawk of southern Asia — the pair makes noisy alarm calls of pit-pit-pit until the danger has passed.
“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, one of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories, includes a tailorbird couple, Darzee (which means “tailor” in Urdu) and his wife, as two of the key characters. Darzee’s wife is said to have feigned injury, but this behaviour is unknown in this species. A classic book of children’s folk tales in Bengali by Upendrakishore Ray is titled “Tuntunir Boi”, after the local name for the species, tuntuni.