Could these be the sweetest little birds on the planet? The Japanese certainly think so, calling the beloved, long-tailed sparrows “snow fairies.” Known as Shima-enaga, the round, white balls of fluff live on Japan’s second-largest island, Hokkaido.
Photographer Yuzuru Kitagawa captures their delicate beauty perfectly as they flit around the snowy paradise that is their home. With all-white faces, bright round eyes, and miniature beaks, they resemble flying snowballs.
According to Hokkaido wildlife and bird-watching experts Saiyu Travel, the Hokkaido long-tailed sparrows—Aegithalos caudatus japonicus—can be seen all year round on the island but it’s in winter that they puff out their feathers to keep warm, giving them their cute, round shape.
One of the secrets to their magical cuteness is that while other varieties of long-tailed tits tend to have dark-toned eyebrows, the Shima-enaga lose theirs as they become adults, leaving them with pure white faces.
Typically weighing the equivalent of a couple of teaspoons of sugar, they measure just 13 to 15 centimeters—including the tail—and bounce around energetically, performing tricks in the air.
Charmingly social, the adorable sparrows travel, forage, and roost in flocks of around 20 birds. They breed every February or March. Helpfully, adults who failed to produce offspring take on the task of feeding and caring for other parents’ chicks.
At the start of spring when the weather becomes slightly more temperate, trees with damaged branches start to drip sap that then freezes into sugary icicles. A Shima-enaga favorite, the birds can be spotted licking the frozen treats, which provide them with an extra boost of sustenance.
So entrancing is the long-tailed tits’ cottony cuteness that many photographers make the trip to Hokkaido especially for the snow fairies. The chatty, noisy, puffy birds for sure inspire delight. Not only do they crop up in Japanese books and comics, but they also feature widely in crafts and souvenirs.
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