A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.
In Winter, JOBITAKI (ジョウビタキ)- Daurian Redstarts- Bring Color to Japanese Home Gardens- but mostly to those which already have some
A male jobitaki (Daurian Redstart)- gray head, black face, white mark on the wing, and red chest
By Avi Landau
It is common for Japanese homeowners to plant in their gardens shrubs and trees which in winter bear fruit, berries or flowers. This is done to liven up the season in which most of the rest of the natural landscape turns dull brown and straw-colored – or in areas with months of snowfall – completely white. Walking around my own neighborhood in Tsukuba City in winter, I can see on the grounds of the older, traditional-style houses, an abundance of citrus trees heavy-laden with bright fruit- different varieties of MIKAN (orange) or YUZU (citron). There are also the sazanka trees with their many pink or white blossoms ( and later in winter will come the similar camelia, TSUBAKI).
Jobitaki in Tsukuba ( Photo by Hiroshi Ogawa)
Even more common, are the various shrubs which bear berries in winter. These can be seen growing around even the newer residences with the much smaller gardens. The more popular of these are nandian berries (NANTEN) , MANRYO, SENRYO, and PIRAKANSA, with their red-berries. Then there are the beautiful MURASAKI SHIKIBU and KO MURASAKI, whose berries are purple.
As I have already said, these berries help add lots of cheerful color to Japanese residential neighborhoods in winter. And as an added benefit, these bright reds and purples help to attract even more color and LIFE to wintery gardens. Though not usually eaten by humans, these berries are an important food source for many bird species and thus, gardens with these shrubs attract lots of birds.
A KOMURASAKI bush at the Fumon-Ji Temple in Tsukuba one of the many colorful berry-bearing bushing that can be found growing around many of Tsukuba`s homes
Probably the most colorful of the COMMON birds which are drawn to these berry bushes in urban and suburban gardens is the JOBITAKI (ジョウビタキ)- the Daurian Redstart. More specifically, the male of the species, which has an outstandingly rust-colored breast, a gray head, black face, and a distinctive white mark on its black wings. All this color packed is into a bird slightly smaller than a sparrow.
A cirtus bearing trees hangs grows above a wall surrounding one of Tsukuba`s grand old farm-houses
The JOBITAKI really need those berries. You might be surprised to hear this since they are so small, but these birds are in Japan only for the winter. Each autumn they fly over from the continent ( SIBERIA and China), and then cross back to the other side of the Japan Sea to breed in spring. That is why it is always exciting when a JOBITAKI shows up in your garden in late October. When you see one, you know the little fella has been travelling hard over the past few days and is looking for a good piece of turf to claim as territory for the winter. A garden with plenty of berries does just fine. Even if you are not on the lookout for them, if a JOBITAKI has found your garden attractive it will let you know that it is there with its VOICE- marking out your territory as its own.
The JOBITAKI have a few different calls, but the most distinctive is something like SQUEAK- CLACK-CLACK! This clacking sound, not unlike two flintstones being knocked together is in fact the origin of this birds Japanese name- BITAKI- which means fire starter. The JO, in front, probably means OLD MAN, a reference to it gray head.
While in Japan over the winter, these birds live separately (as opposed to in pairs or groups), and guard their own territory quite fiercely. Besides fighting off the JOBITAKI next door, they can sometimes even be seen trying to fight off their own reflection in a window or car mirror.
Other than planting the berry-bearing bushes they like so much in your garden. It is a little difficult to FEED these birds. Unlike bulbuls ( HIYODORI), which will eat bread or fruit thrown out for them, the JOBI TAKI will eat only the colorful berries or grubs. If you really want to attract these birds to YOUR garden you can go to a pet shop and buy some mealworm grubs. Cultivating them is easy. I know some people who get these beautiful little birds to eat the worms right out of their hands
Hey, there he is! My JOBITAKI! In a leafless tree in the corner of my garden. Squeaking and clicking while it flits its tail up and down. A heart-warming sight and sound indeed, on a cold day like today!
For the next couple of months I will be sure to spend time watching him. When march comes around he will set off over the mountains and cross the sea back to the continent.
Its hard to image, but by summer this little bird picking berries in my yard might be on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia.