The only North American member of the Remizidae family of penduline tits, the verdin is a distant cousin of the more familiar, widespread chickadees and tits. While its color and markings will never be mistaken for a chickadee, this small, active bird has much the same behavior and is always interesting to watch. This fact sheet can introduce you to all that makes the verdin a special desert bird.
- Scientific Name: Auriparus flaviceps
- Common Name: Verdin
- Lifespan: 2-3 years
- Size: 4.5 inches
- Weight: .24-.26 ounces
- Wingspan: 7 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
Mature verdins are easy to identify with their colorful faces, but young birds can be frustratingly plain. By recognizing the key features of this species, however, birders can avoid too much confusion when verdins fly by.
First, note the short, straight, sharply pointed, black bill. The long tail, slender body, and round head are also part of the jizz that can help identify verdins as related to tits and chickadees. The sexes are similar though females are generally duller than males, but with the same colors and markings. The head, face, and throat are bright yellow though the extent of the yellow can vary, especially as feathers get worn later in summer and fall. The dark eyes and gray-black lores stand out markedly, giving this bird a curious, inquisitive expression. The nape and back are gray, and the wings and tail are a slightly darker gray or gray-brown. The plain underparts are paler grayish white. The shoulder has a small reddish-chestnut patch but it may not always be visible depending on the bird's posture and feather alignment. The legs and feet are black.
Juvenile birds are plain gray-brown and lack the yellow head or chestnut shoulder patch but quickly develop adult plumage colors. Younger birds also have a paler bill than the black bill of adults, and may show some yellow on the underside of the bill.
These birds have a high-pitched, rapid "teee-ip" call that is two syllables strung very quickly together. The typical song is 2-3 syllables of short, evenly pitched whistles. Both calls and songs may be repeated in a regular, evenly-paced series.
Verdin Habitat and Distribution
These small birds are found in arid scrub and desert habitats, particularly in areas where there is abundant mesquite and creosote scrub for foraging. They're also likely to be seen along desert riparian washes and in suburban areas. Their year-round range extends from the southern tip of Nevada and southwest California through western and southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western Texas, as well as south into the Baja peninsula and appropriate habitats in western and central Mexico. Vagrant sightings outside the expected range are rare and never extraordinarily far from the verdin's traditional range.
Verdins do not migrate, but instead stay in their same relatively small range year-round.
These small birds are typically solitary or found in pairs, though they will form small family groups at the end of the nesting season until that year's offspring mature and venture off on their own. They can be shy and difficult to see, and watching for flitting and fluttering in the tree canopy is an easier way to spot verdins. In winter, these birds will join mixed flocks with bushtits and similar small, active birds.
During the hottest part of summer, verdins will construct extra, empty nests for roosting to escape the harshest desert heat. These roosting nests are often smaller than the nests where eggs are laid, but the shape and construction are similar.
Diet and Feeding
Verdins are active, acrobatic foragers and rapidly glean insects from leaves and bark much like chickadees, even often hanging upside down to investigate the underside of leaves. They will flick their tails periodically while foraging, which can be a good clue to identify these birds. While they eat primarily insects and are considered insectivorous overall, their diet also includes fruit, berries, and nectar, especially when insects are scarce.
Verdins are monogamous birds, and both adults of a mated pair work together to build an intricate, spherical nest. The male will often build several nests of small sticks and twigs bound with spider silk, while the female will line the nest she prefers to use with grasses and feathers. Nests are placed 2-20 feet above the ground, and can be quite conspicuous because of their shape and how many twigs are used.
Eggs and Young
There are 3-6 eggs per brood, and each egg is oval-shaped and blue-green to greenish-white in color, marked with red or brown specks. Two broods are laid each year.
The female parent incubates the eggs for 10 days, and after hatching both parents will feed the chicks for an additional 20-21 days. The juvenile birds may remain with their parents in a loose family group until the next breeding season.
While the verdin is not considered threatened or endangered, some mild population declines have been noted, particularly in areas where their preferred arid habitat is being lost to development. Ongoing habitat conservation through the establishment of preserves is essential to help protect this desert species. Conscientious landscaping that preserves habitat even in suburban desert areas, such as xeriscaping and the use of native desert plants, can also be helpful to support verdin populations.
Tips for Backyard Birders
Verdins will visit yards in appropriate suburban areas where the landscaping is bird-friendly for their needs. Planting thorny plants and berry-producing shrubs is ideal for attracting verdins, and minimizing pruning of those plants can help these small birds feel more secure. Insecticide use should also be minimized so their preferred food source is abundant, and they will visit water features where available. Verdins will also visit hummingbird nectar feeders, especially feeders with perches where they can feed comfortably.
How to Find This Bird
Verdins can be challenging to find, but visiting desert washes with thorny scrub vegetation and watching for the movement of these flittering birds can be helpful. Avoid heavily landscaped areas where pesticides and other chemical treatments may have eliminated these birds' food sources. Since verdins travel in small flocks, where birders spot one of these birds they are likely to see several. This is most common in late summer and early fall when juvenile birds have matured yet are still staying close to their parents.
Explore More Species in This Family
Similar birds to the verdin, though they may not be in the Remizidae bird family but are still close relatives, include the:
In addition to these close verdin cousins, visit all our detailed bird profile fact sheets to discover even more amazing species.