On a January trip to the Mojave National Preserve, Craig Deutsche led us up a broad, sandy wash toward the Bighorn Plateau. Along the sides of the wash, cats claw and other low trees and scrubby shrubs caught at our clothes as we hiked. The wash was dry, but bits of debris lodged in the branches provided evidence of the water that had flooded through it after rainstorms. Something about one clump of debris caught my eye. It was about six feet up in a cats claw. Its roundness and substance made it stand out. On closer inspection, we saw it was a softball size clump of twigs and branches with a neat, half dollar size hole in one side. It was a nest, and there’s only one bird that makes that kind of nest in this area–the verdin (Auriparus flaviceps).
The verdin is a small, chickadee-sized bird with a yellow face. It has a gray back, white belly, and gray wings with a small reddish patch on it’s shoulders. We didn’t see any of the perky little birds around the round nest, but they could have been there. They stay in their same range throughout the year, often using one of their nests for night roosting in the winter. Verdin live in the southern desert regions of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Their range extends up into central Texas.
On another trip, this time to Joshua Tree National Park, I was greeted by a fussy verdin near Cottonwood Springs. It was a cold, cloudy day, and not many birds were stirring, but this fellow made up for it. She or he, both sexes look the same, busily foraged for insects and seeds through the low trees and scrub along the trail, taking time out to scold me with a series of whistles and tisk, tisks.
I’d like to go back in the spring to observe their nesting habits. The male builds several rounded nests of twigs and grasses held together with spider webs. The female then chooses the one she likes the best and finishes it, lining the inside with feathers and soft plants. The female lays 3-6 eggs that hatch in about 10 days. The babies are ready to fly in just 3 weeks. The family sticks together, though, returning at night to roost in the nest. Later the parents start all over again with another brood.
Clark, G. Verdin and Nest Photographs. 1999. <http://mirror-pole.com/collpage/verdin/verdin.htm>.