Arizona’s Acrobatic Bird, the Verdin

A yellow-green head and red shoulder patches identify the diminutive Verdin (photo Bob Bowers)

A yellow-green head and red shoulder patches identify the diminutive Verdin (photo Bob Bowers)

One of my favorite SaddleBrooke birds is the Verdin.  This tiny 4-inch bird is inquisitive and friendly, and will brighten anyone’s day.  Unless you get a good look at a Verdin in the sunlight, you might easily mistake him for a small sparrow, finch or just another unidentifiable little gray bird.  Once you get a good look, however, there is no mistaking the beautiful yellow face and rufous-red shoulder patches.

As with a number of special birds, we are especially lucky to have Verdins, since their U.S. range is quite limited.  Found throughout Mexico, where it is known as the Baloncillo, Verdins are only found in the southern sections of five states:  Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Arizona.  Verdins are permanent year-round residents wherever they live, preferring warm deserts, and refusing to migrate, just like hardy SaddleBrooke homeowners.

Verdins pick dried sugar from hummingbird feeders (photo Bob Bowers)

Verdins pick dried sugar from hummingbird feeders (photo Bob Bowers)

The Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps) is a member of the Remizidae family and the genus Auriparus.  It is the only species in the genus, and the only species in the family found in the New World.  It is also one of the smallest passerines (perching songbirds) in North America.  It is gray overall, and the adult birds have a bright yellow head and throat, as well as those sometimes hard-to-see rufous-red shoulder epaulets (lesser coverts).  Its size and movements remind one of Bushtits and Chickadees, although it isn’t found in flocks like Bushtits, and, unlike Bushtits, its bill is sharply pointed.  Male and female Verdins are similar in appearance, and often travel and feed together.

It's a female Verdin if she's carrying nest-lining material (photo Bob Bowers)

It’s a female Verdin if she’s carrying nest-lining material (photo Bob Bowers)

Like Cactus Wrens, Verdins will build several nests each year, including smaller ones for winter roosting.  The male builds more than one nest of twigs, and the female selects her favorite.  Females line the nests with feathers and down.  Verdin nests are unique baskets with a small opening near the bottom.  Nests are often built in mesquites and cholla, although a resident pair built their nest in our fig tree this past year.  The female lays 3-6 eggs, which incubate in 10 days, and the young fledge in 3 weeks.  Juveniles have none of the adult color, but can be identified by a pinkish-yellow lower bill.

Pomegranates are a sure way to attract Verdins and many other birds (photo Bob Bowers)

Pomegranates are a sure way to attract Verdins and many other birds (photo Bob Bowers)

Although Verdins are insectivorous, they also eat seeds and fruit, and are nectar-robbers, as well.  They flit acrobatically through branches gleaning insects, but seem equally attracted to nectar-rich hummingbird plants like Fairy duster, Salvia, and honeysuckle.  Verdins also frequent hummingbird feeders, picking dried sugar water from the feeders’ nooks and crannies.  A sure-fire way to attract Verdins is to plant a Pomegranate tree.  Verdins will clean a split Pomegranate, leaving nothing but the shell.  If you don’t want to plant a tree, buy a Pomegranate at the grocery store, cut it in half and impale the halves on a finishing nail driven into a tree stake.  Pomegranates can cost three bucks apiece, but once Verdins start visiting, you’ll be glad you shelled it out.  They’ll even perch on your windowsill to say thanks.

(This article originally appeared in the February, 2010 issue of the Saddlebag Notes newspaper, Tucson, Arizona.)

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About Bob

A lifelong naturalist, Bob's avocation is birding, including field observation, study, photography and writing. He spent a career in computers and consulting, but his free time has been spent outdoors backpacking, fishing and enjoying nature firsthand. Bob has traveled extensively, exploring and photographing above and underwater in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt and throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now retired, as an amateur ornithologist Bob studies, photographs and writes primarily about birds of the Western Hemisphere. Formerly the Feature Writer for Latin America and Caribbean Travel at Suite101.com, he has been Suite101's Feature Writer for Birds and Birding since January, 2010, and has received seven Editor's Choice awards, which are listed below. Bob also writes a monthly birding column for a newspaper in Arizona, and his work appears in the travel magazine, Another Day in Paradise, published in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. His blog, Birding the 'Brooke and Beyond, discusses birding, travel and other topics in Southeast Arizona and beyond. Bob is a member of the National and Tucson Audubon Societies, Western Field Ornithologists, Arizona Field Ornithologists, the American Birding Association and other birding and conservation organizations. Bob and his wife, Prudy, live in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills near Tucson, Arizona. To date, Bob has received Suite101 Editor's Choice awards for the following articles: • Birding by Cruise Ship in the Caribbean • The Xantus' Hummingbird, Baja California's Only Endemic Hummer • Birding the White Mountains in and Around Greer, Arizona • The Greater Roadrunner, New Mexico's State Bird • Where to Find Steelhead on the Lower Deschutes River in Oregon • Birding La Bajada near San Blas, Mexico • The 2008 Christmas Bird Count at Estero del Yugo in Mazatlan
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