White-naped tit (Parus nuchalis)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyParidae
GenusParus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 12 - 13 cm (2)
Weight13 - 14.5 g (2)

The white-naped tit is classififed as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1)

A shy, wary bird, the white-naped tit (Parus nuchalis) is endemic to India, but sadly its population has rapidly declined in recent years (3). It has a striking, monochromatic appearance, and the male has a glossy, bluish-black head, adorned with a black, feathered crest. The wings are also black, and a thick, black line runs down the centre of the breast, while the remaining parts are a creamy white (2).

The female white-naped tit is similarly patterned, but slightly duller and less glossy, with pale yellow underparts. The juvenile is also a sooty, less glossy black and yellow, although the central line on its breast is brown, as opposed to black (2).

The white-naped tit communicates within small foraging groups using a short series of thin whistles, often preceded by an even higher pitched note ‘ti, pee-pee-pee, ti-pee-pee-pee-pee' (2).

Found only in India, the white-naped tit occurs in two separate populations: one in the northwest and the other in the south (4). It is mainly found in the areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan in the arid north-western states. Even in its stronghold of Gujarat, the white-naped tit is very sparsely distributed, and it is even rarer in the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu (2).

Outside of the breeding season, the white-naped tit will frequently travel some distance from its breeding grounds (2).

The white-naped tit favours lowland, dry, thorn-scrub forest in northwest India, characterised by Acacia trees (3). It also occurs in dry to moist deciduous woodland in the south of India (4), and may be found up to elevations of at least 700 metres (3). The white-naped tit has been known to stray into gardens and orchards, and in times of drought it can be found along stream beds and irrigated crop fields (4) (5).

The white-naped tit’s diet includes larvae and insect pupae, as well as small invertebrates such as spiders. It will also consume fruits, including Salvadora oleoidesberries, and occasionally nectar (2) (5). It has been seen feeding on insects attracted to dung on the ground, and it sometimes drinks from puddles (5). This bird usually forages in a pair, although it has been seen feeding in small family groups of up to five birds, and even as part of a mixed species flock (6).

The mating season for the white-naped tit is during the monsoon, from May to August (3) (4). It scrupulously selects a nest site, with a preference for old woodpecker nest holes, which can usually be found about 2.5 metres above the ground in trees (5). If abandoned nest holes are unavailable, the white-naped tit selects a shrub, such as an Acacia bush, or a cavity in a dead or dying tree (3). It shows a high fidelity to its chosen nest site, returning to it in subsequent years (5).

The nest is constructed into a pad or platform and the white-naped tit lines it with plant fibres, down, animal hair and wool to increase insulation (2). Both the male and female white-naped tit are involved in feeding and raising the nestlings (5), and the brood contains up to three fledglings (2). Following fledging, the young stay in the area surrounding the nest for four to five days (5).

The main threat to the white-naped tit is the loss and fragmentation of its dry thorn-scrubland habitat. As this species is sparsely distributed and occurs in low densities, further loss of habitat due to agriculture, human settlement, urban development, quarrying, gypsum-mining, and charcoal production is an ever-impending threat (5).

The white-naped tit favours areas containing Acacia plants, but at one site in Kutch, Acacia trees were being cut at a rate of about 100 per day to meet the local demand for disposable toothbrushes (5). Acacia species are also diminishing due to competition from non-native species, such as Prosopis glandulosa (3).

The white-naped tit’s population has declined rapidly in recent years, and in 2001 it was estimated there were fewer than 10,000 individuals (3).

The white-naped tit has been recorded from two protected areas: Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and Anshi National Park in Karnataka. However, recent studies at these sites failed to locate this species (5).

There are many recommendations for the conservation of the white-naped tit, including carrying out comprehensive surveys on its population density, distribution and movement, in particular for the southern population, to help create and implement future conservation projects (5).

Further preservation of a network of dry thorn-scrub forests, capable of supporting a significant white-naped tit population, and rural development schemes to reduce exploitation of the dry-thorn scrub forests are essential, especially in Kutch. The development schemes include introducing fuel-efficient stoves and providing toothbrushes and paste to reduce Acacia lopping (5).

Molecular analysis has also been suggested as a tool to identify the relationship between the north-western and southern white-naped tit populations (5).

More information on the white-naped tit:

 Find out more about bird conservation in India:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2007) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (September, 2011)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=7053
  4. Jackson, J., Bock, W. and Olendorf, D. (2003) Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopaedia. Volume 11: Birds IV. Gale Group Inc., Farmington Hills.
  5. BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://birdbase.hokkaido-ies.go.jp/rdb/rdb_en/parunuch.pdf
  6. Lott, E.J. and Lott, C. (1999) Short notes on the occurrence of white-naped tit, Parus nuchalis, in southern India, Forktail, 15: 93-94.