The Verdin, one of the southwestern desert’s smallest birds, is a hyperactive year round resident from southeastern California to central Mexico, often glimpsed while seemingly trying to hide in thick brush. Seldom can it be seen sitting still, as it flits about in bushes searching for insects, their larvae and eggs, often clinging and hanging upside down at the ends of twigs. If you see a bird flitting around a creosote bush, it is a good bet that it is a Verdin, as few other birds like to feed in creosote.
It also eats some wild berries and fruits which apparently provide it with all the moisture it needs.
Verdin are very nectivorous and occasionally seeks out bits of dried nectar from hummingbird feeders. Thus, I fill and hang an Aspects pan type feeder without the top. It attracts multiple Verdin (but also the finches) who perch on the edge and drink nectar.
The Verdin is tiny, about 4 inches long. It is mostly gray, with a yellow head and throat and chestnut shoulder patches. The completely dull gray juveniles resemble bushtits, although an astute observer will note that the immature Verdin have shorter tails.
The Verdins are common here in Tucson and inhabit mesquite, hackberry, hawthorn, Cat’s Claw, screw bean, Palo Verde, Cholas, and other thorny and twiggy shrubs and trees. They are often found in the same desert environment with Cactus Wrens, Curve-billed Thrashers, and Horned Toads.
Photo by Doris Evans
The male Verdin builds several large, sturdy, conspicuous oval nests of interlaced thorny twigs. He places them well out toward the ends of branches of mesquite, cholla, Palo Verde, creosote, hackberry, or cat claw, about 2 to 20 feet off the ground. The entrance is nearly at the bottom of the nest and leads to an interior cup made of grasses, leaves, and a generous amount of feathers all held together by spider silk. The female chooses one of these well insulated nests to provide protection for her eggs and young.
The amount of nests in an area can give a false impression of the number of Verdins found there. The birds use some smaller nests only for roosting, or in the winter. Also, the nests are so well constructed that they can last year after year, resulting in many unoccupied nests.
Furthermore, the Verdins raise two broods in two different nests each year. They orient the first nest of the season away from the prevailing winds for warmth. The second brood is raised in a nest facing into the wind to provide a cooling breeze in the heat of the summer.
For such a small bird, it utters a penetrating and loud series of 3 or 4 clear, whistled notes on the same pitch.
In her “Birds of the Southwest “, Barbara Davis recounts the following tale regarding the vocal prowess of the Verdin.
“One evening I was watching the usual large number of birds feeding in my yard. Especially in abundance were the Gambel’s Quail. They were all over the ground, as well as stacked three deep on my feeders. Many other birds were perched in the Palo Verdes, anxiously waiting their turn. Among them was a Verdin flitting from branch to branch. All of a sudden the Verdin gave out a loud sharp call, audible even above the continuous chattering of the Quail. Instantly, all birds flew to safety just as a Merlin Hawk came diving toward the feeder in anticipation of a Quail for its own dinner. Three evenings later the incident repeated itself, and once again, thanks to the perception and warning call of the Verdin, the Hawk flew away empty-taloned. Even though I know that the balance of nature depends upon one species devouring another, I was glad this time that the little Verdin’s warning may have diverted the Hawk’s hunger instinct toward a ‘pest,’ instead of toward the beautiful Quail.”
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