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Sombre Tit

Poecile lugubris

CONSERVATION STATUS.

According to the last estimation, population of Sombre Tit makes from 250 to 350 breeding pairs. Although during last ten years  there is no significant increase of population, but slight movement to the North was noticed. The main threat for the species is forest fire, which is relatively common in the south-eastern Armenia. The fires are mainly caused due to inappropriate human behavior in the field (unattended fire, left bottles which act as lenses in the dry period, etc.). Another threat comes pesticides, which are used as a treatment method against forest pests.

HABITAT.

Inhabits dry maquis areas of scattered trees and bushes, including olive (Olea) groves, wild plum (Prunus) orchards and other fruit trees, e.g. wild pear (Pyrus amygdaliformis) and vineyards, also parkland areas of open oak (Quercus) forests including scrub oak, beech (Fagus), willows (Salix) and poplars (Populus); also conifers, particularly spruce (Picea) and cedars (Cedrus), especially in areas of rocky limestone hills. From sea-level around Mediterranean, up to 2200 m in Turkey; in N Israel breeds at 750–1700 m; in Azerbaijan not found below c. 550 m and in Armenia not below 450 m.

FEEDING BEHAVIOR.

Shy, unobtrusive. Forages in lower branches of trees and shrubs, occasionally briefly on ground, but usually returns to bush or branches of tree with food items; in S Caucasus forages mainly in canopy of deciduous trees. Active but generally less acrobatic or agile than other tits. Climbs tree trunks like a nuthatch (Sittidae), and occasionally pursues insects in flight in manner of flycatcher (Muscicapidae). Food items held in foot and hammered open with bill, also seeds wedged in bark before being opened; seedheads, including those of herbs, torn open in manner of a finch (Fringillidae).

 

EGGS.

The clutch can consist on 4–7 eggs, but usually makes 5–6, laid at daily intervals; incubation is implemented by female during 13–14 days; chicks are fed by both sexes during the nestling period, which makes 14–17 days; 

YOUNG.

Up to now there is no information available on duration of dependency of fledglings.

DIET.

Small invertebrates and larvae, including beetles (Coleoptera), grasshoppers (Orthoptera), bugs (Hemiptera), flies (Diptera), bees and wasps (Hymenoptera), ants (Formicidae), damselflies (Odonata), lacewings (Neuroptera), moths (Lepidoptera), spiders (Araneae), woodlice (Isopoda) and snails (Gastropoda); also seeds, mainly of Leguminosae; in captivity, frequently stores food. Usually in pairs in breeding season; often in small groups in autumn and winter, sometimes with mixed-species flocks (typically first-winter birds), occasionally solitary in winter. 

NESTING.

Season Mar to early Aug; mostly single-brooded but two broods not uncommon, and double-brooding frequent in Israel. Monogamous; territorial, during breeding most time spent within 150 m of nest, territorial conflicts rare. Male courtship-feeds female, display includes wing-shivering and begging calls. Nest, built by female, a cup of wool, plant material, bark strips, animal hair and feathers (inner diameter 42–45 mm, height c. 100 mm), placed up to 7 m from ground in hole in tree, often in rotting wood in fruit tree, also among rocks on bank; will use nestbox; territory in oak woodland in Croatia 300–400 m in diameter. Clutch usually 5–7 (range 4–10) white eggs with fine reddish-brown or purplish-red speckling, sometimes concentrated at larger end, size 16·1–19 mm × 11·7–14·5 mm, mass 1·6–1·8 g; incubation by female, period 12–15 days; both sexes feed chicks, nestling period 17–23 (usually 21–23) days, and young become fully independent after an additional c. 12 days; defends nest from predatory ants Liometopum microcephalum in oaks in Balkans by collecting those passing near nest entrance and crushing them against bark (which apparently causes alarm pheromone to be released by ants, deterring others from entering hole). Study in NC Turkey, centred on nestboxes, found that of 191 eggs laid, 164 hatched (c. 86%) and 161 young fledged (c. 84% vis-à-vis number of eggs laid).

MIGRATION.

Resident, but some evidence of altitudinal movements in Zagros Mts (Iran) and N Israel; some apparent immigration from Lebanon and Syria into N Israel, where commoner in winter down to 600 m on Mt Hermon and Golan Heights; also wanders in autumn and winter to otherwise unoccupied areas of C Turkey. Vagrant in N Italy and Kuwait.

DISTRIBUTION.

The species is distributed in. The subspecies P. l. anatoliae (E. J. O. Hartert, 1905) lives in Asia Minor, W Georgia, S Armenia, SW Azerbaijan, Levant (S to N Israel).

CONSERVATION MEASURES.

The species is evaluated as Least Concern in IUCN Red List, however it is estimated as Vulnerable VU B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii); C1a(i) in the Red Book of Animals of Armenia (2010). The species is not included in Bern Convention and CITES Convention. At current part of the population of Sombre Tit is covered by Zangezur Biosphere Complex, and by Emerald Network.
The proposed conservation measures include: (1) development of capacity of Zangezur Biosphere Complex in rapid response to forest fires; (2) raising awareness of the local communities in regards of responsible behavior in the field to decrease the risk of human caused fire; (3) cleaning of the major picnic areas from the left bottles and other glass and plastic leftovers, which again can cause a fire; (4) review of forestry policy and replacement of use of pesticides by other methods of pest management. 

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