Feature image by Lois Manowitz
Of all the birds one may see in the arid southwest, the verdin (Auriparus flaviceps) is often overlooked. At first sight, this tiny bird (only about 4-4.5 inches) blends in with the common sparrows and finches. But upon closer inspection one notices its behavior is quite different. This little bird is not shy — neither humans nor other birds scare away this little one. Its call is even big for such a tiny thing. Even its coloring becomes more impressive upon closer inspection. On the adults, the face and head are yellow, and the shoulders have a small red blotch.
It also builds big: verdin nests are rather large for such a tiny bird. The male may build several of these large, oval or globular nests before the female decides one of them is good enough for her eggs (of which she will lay around 3-6). The nests are usually found in shrubs, cholla cactus, or small trees, as high as about 4 and 12 feet above the ground. When they aren’t nesting, verdin are solitary birds.
Verdin are native to the arid Southwest, south into Northern Mexico. They are a desert species, found in mesquite bosques, shrubby portions of the Sonoran Desert, and along waterways. Being tough little buggers, they are seen out in the hottest part of a summer day, or the coolest parts of winter; they are year-round residents of our region. While their populations have been increasing in urban and suburban areas, their natural populations are on the decline in the past few decades — nobody is sure why.
When we first noticed them at Rancho Gatito, we realized that they weren’t eating the seeds like the other small birds, but were more interested in the hummingbird nectar. Naturally, verdin mainly eat insects, but are known to also consume berries and occasionally small seeds. We have become big fans of our little verdin visitors. We have three regulars who hang out all day slurping nectar from our feeders and also sucking nectar from plants in the hummingbird garden.