Merlin

Verdin Life History

Habitat

Habitat Scrub

Verdins are permanent residents of arid habitats in Mexico and the Desert Southwest of the United States. They use desert scrub or chaparral with thorny trees and avoid both open flats with low vegetation and dense forest. They often occur along washes (arroyos) where trees and shrubs such as acacias (catclaw, paloverde, mesquite), tamarisk, juniper, ironwood, creosote bush, hackberry, smoke tree, desert lavender, willows, or oaks are present. In Mexico, Verdins sometimes nest in cactus such as cholla.

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Food

Food Insects

Verdins eat insects and spiders, and they also consume nectar, fruit, and plant matter in smaller amounts. To capture insects and spiders, they move rapidly and with agility through small branches, often hanging upside down or using their feet to survey the undersides of leaves. Verdins often tenderize larger items, such as caterpillars, by striking them against a branch with the foot before consuming them. They forage mostly low in the small trees of their environment, normally about 10 feet above the ground, and often frequent the outer portions of the tree rather than the interior. Their diet includes scale insects, aphids, leafhoppers, caterpillars, wasps, beetles, and spiders. Plant foods include fruits of palm, agarita, mesquite, hackberry, and wolfberry. Verdins also drink nectar from flowers, either by inserting the head into the flower, like a hummingbird, or by piercing the base of the flower (such as chuparosa) to “steal” the nectar. In some areas, they attend hummingbird feeders. Verdins also eat pulp from seedpods of legumes such as paloverde, mesquite, and ironwood.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Shrub

Males and females usually select the nest site together. Nests are usually set in a bush or shrub less than 6 feet off the ground. Pairs often build multiple nests in close vicinity, some of which they use for roosting. Nest building may occur year-round.

Nest Description

Both male and female build the nest, a bulky, spherical mass about 6 inches in diameter made of thorny twigs that holds an interior sphere (about 1 inch thick) of feathers, hair, and plant matter. Inside this sphere is a small cavity (about 2 inches across) lined with grasses, feathers, and plant fibers. The nest entrance is an opening about 1 inch in diameter, usually on the bottom of the sphere.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Egg Description:

Light greenish, with irregular dark reddish spots, especially at larger end.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless and naked.

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Behavior

Behavior Foliage Gleaner

Verdins nest in springtime, and although no courtship display is known, males call and sing more frequently at this time, and females sometimes join in and vocalize with the male. When advertising to females, males sometimes build a “display” nest. This species appears to be monogamous, but pairs do not remain together year-round. Once paired, a male and female fly together around the territory, usually early in the breeding season. A paired female sometimes begs food from the male, which may present her with the bill (but apparently not with food). Mating occurs after a fluttering flight display. In some parts of this species’ large range, males are territorial and chase away other males over a large area (as large as 20 acres); but in other places, they appear only to defend the area around the nests. Both sexes build the nests for roosting and nesting, and both incubate the eggs and tend to the chicks. After the young fledge, they forage with their parents until winter, when they disperse short distances.

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Conservation

Conservation Common Bird in Steep Decline

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Verdin populations declined by an estimated 1.9% per year between 1968 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 60% during that period. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 7.2 million and rates the species an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Nevertheless, if current rates of decline continue, the species will have lost another half of its population by 2047. Loss of habitat is the greatest known conservation threat to this species; it is already absent from large parts of southern California where it was common prior to development. However, Verdins persist in some developed areas where density of housing is low.

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Backyard Tips

Verdins sometimes visit hummingbird feeders and flowering shrubs.

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Credits

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

Webster, Marcus D. (1999). Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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