Verdin

Auriparus flaviceps

Verdin
ALAN SCHMIERER/Flickr/CC0 1.0

The only North American member of the penduline tit family, the verdin is a distant cousin of the more familiar chickadees. 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.

Common Name: Verdin
Scientific Name: Auriparus flaviceps
Scientific Family: Remizidae

Appearance and Identification

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.

  • Bill: Short, straight, sharply pointed, black but paler in juvenile birds
  • Size: 4.5 inches long with 7-inch wingspan, long tail, slender body, round head
  • Colors: Yellow, gray, white, chestnut, black, gray-brown
  • Markings: 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. The dark eyes and gray-black lores stand out markedly, giving this bird an 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 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.

    Foods, Diet and Foraging

    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. While they eat primarily insects and are considered insectivorous overall, their diet also includes fruit, berries and nectar, especially when insects are scarce.

    Habitat and Migration

    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. While verdins do not migrate, 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.

    Vocalizations

    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.

    Behavior

    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. 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 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 is similar.

    Reproduction

    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 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. 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.

    Attracting Verdins

    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.

    Conservation

    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.

    Similar Birds

    • Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
    • Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila melanura)
    • Lucy's Warbler (Oreothlypis luciae)