Backyard Birding

Nest concealed in a creosote shrub

Nest concealed in a creosote shrub

Verdin photo from Wikipedia

Verdin photo from Wikipedia

A green corridor of native trees meanders behind the houses on our street. The rocky hillside channels infrequent rain to their roots. In our backyards irrigated native plants provide food and shelter for wildlife. This urban approximation of a riparian habitat teems with life.
Our shaded patio is perfect for bird watching. The neighbor’s ficus hedge is home to great tailed grackles, starlings and mockingbirds. Their shrieks and whistles ring out morning and evening. Sleek white-winged doves preen on the fence while house finches gather to drink and splash at the stone fountain.
A pair of tiny yellow-capped verdins flies in and out of a creosote shrub near the back fence. They’re building a nest. The male freights in twigs, balanced in his minute beak. The female keeps an eye on the progress. At the end of day one a simple cup has been woven into the fabric of the plant, barely visible.
Day two, the pair flies in repeatedly with twigs, stems and grasses. By late afternoon the ball shaped nest is partly enclosed, with the back and front spilling open. Lengths of nesting materials protrude, like rebar from concrete. Stashed at the back of the nest is a collection of gold colored acacia catkins. Fat and furry, they’ll provide insulation.
From the patio I watch the verdin push twigs through the back of the nest, then flit to the front where he enters and works inside. He carries a beakful of grasses and shoves it in place to line the entrance on the lower side of the spherical nest. He’ll install a lip on the interior to prevent eggs and nestlings from falling out. The opening faces southwest to catch prevailing breezes for ventilation.
By the third day the loose ends have been woven into round walls, and the leaves and twigs of the creosote plant have been incorporated into a concealing curtain. The softball sized nest swings and bobs in the breeze. The female takes over at this point and lines the interior with soft treasures she’s found, feathers and fur.
After that I don’t see any more activity at the nest. Research reveals that the industrious male verdin builds several nests in one area. The female chooses one for a breeding nest and another will be used by the adults for sleeping. Some of the nests may be decoys. Once the youngsters fledge the male will move them to one of the extra nests for a few more weeks of feeding and care, while the female starts another brood. These little birds are voracious insect eaters and are welcome to my backyard any time.


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