In Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island, fluffy white little birds flitter through the trees. They look like white cotton balls bouncing around and are beloved by the Japanese, who call them Shima enaga. In English, they’re known as long-tailed tits, though this particular subspecies is only found in Hokkaido.
What makes Hokkaido’s long-tailed tits so special? All members of the species are tiny, measuring 13 to 15 centimeters long—and half of that is tail! But in Hokkaido, these tits have a characteristic that adds to their cuteness. Typically, long-tailed tits have distinct black “eyebrows” that sweep above their eyes. However, the tits in Hokkaido lose their eyebrows as they transition into adulthood, leaving them with a pure white face that makes them look like little snowmen.
They live year-round in Hokkaido, where their snow-white faces certainly help them blend in during the island’s long winters. These energetic birds typically move in flocks of 20 to 30 and perform acrobatic tricks as they flutter around. While their small size makes them vulnerable during cold winters, their broods always rebound due to the sheer number of eggs they lay. Typically, they’ll lay 7 to 10 eggs so that even if some don’t survive, enough chicks hatch to keep the population numbers up.
Raising these adorable birds is a community undertaking, with other adult long-tailed tits who have failed to breed often stepping in to help feed all the hungry mouths. They’ll take turns with the parents bringing insects back to the nest until the chicks grow old enough to fend for themselves.
Though the long-tailed tit is widespread from Western Europe across Russia all the way to Japan, there’s nothing quite like Hokkaido’s unique version. With their fluffy little round bodies, it’s no wonder they’ve been transformed into adorable stuffed animals.