The Common Tailorbird, Orthotomus sutorius, is a small warbler whose range extends from India to southern China and down into Indonesia. It is common, mostly in the lowlands, but can range as high as 5000ft. It is found in most habitats with thick cover and can often be found in urban parks and gardens.

It is an active bird that seldom stays still or quiet and often cocks its tail as it moves about through the thick cover. This individual was seen in Hong Kong and the comparatively short tail suggests that she may be female. The males have long central tail feathers in their breeding plumage which would be attained by early March in readiness for the season. Otherwise, sexes are alike. Her behaviour was at odds with what I have seen before. She was on the ground in an open area with only sparse cover, feeding at the entrance of crab(?) holes and allowed me to get very close.

It’s song was nicely summed up by Rudyard Kipling in Rikki-tikki-tavi, where the tailorbird Darzee continually and irritatingly chirps on without thought given to the content of the piece. “Nag is dead.” Kipling also makes the suggestion that tailorbirds trail a wing to feign injury, but this remains anecdotal and has not been proven. As it happens, this individual did display this behaviour, trailing her left wing, but as she allowed me to approach so closely and when she did fly, she did so weakly, it’s possible that she actually was injured. On close inspection of the photographs, her left eye appeared infected.

The bird is named for its habit of sewing two leaves together to make a cup in which it builds its nest. The latin binomial means ‘straight-edged cobbler’, which may be a closer description of how it constructs its nest-bearing cup. It uses its bill to make holes in the leaves as a shoe-maker might use his awl to pierce leathers before sewing or tacking them together. The tailorbird uses spider’s silk, grass or tiny twigs as threads, tacking material or even rivets.

For a three-part trip report to Hong Kong, including the Common Tailorbird and visits to sites at Tai Mo Shan, Cheun Lung Family Walk, and Aberdeen Reservoirs follow the links or visit Redgannet.

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This post has been submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #136.  Go check it out!

Written by Redgannet
Redgannet worked for more than 35 years as a flight attendant for an international airline. He came to birding late in his career but, considering the distractions, doesn't regret the missed opportunities. He was paid to visit six continents and took full advantage of the chance to bird the world. He adopted the nom de blog, Redgannet, to avoid remonstrations from his overbearing employer, but secretly hoped that the air of mystery would make him more attractive to women. Now grounded, he is looking forward to seeing the seasons turn from a fixed point.