Monday, October 16, 2017


Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA
July 2017
Member of the Verdin Family (known outside the Western Hemisphere as the... Penduline Tit Family)
§No Name for A Group of Verdins§

His cavalier attitude worries his older, more responsible brother
Never really had a career goal
Young enough to still feel invincible

In addition to being the only member of his bird family in the new world, Verdin is quite an accomplished nest builder. That means it's time for another episode of Bird-er Homes and Gardens, featuring a Verdin's nest.

So these buddies build nests, like, non-stop. One pair was observed to construct 11 in a single year. They have nests for breeding and nests for roosting. As you can see from our intrepid builder here, the rooting nests have a soft, downy interior, which insulates the nest in winter. In the summer, they build the nests with the entrances facing a breeze to make them cooler. Smart little guys, and another bird in our current series on surviving harsh desert conditions.

Usually the male builds the hard stick exterior and the female does the lining, which makes our male here out front a little unusual. Or maybe he has just gathered the lining for the lady, who may be inside. Who knows. I'm not about to judge this Verdin for embracing a non-traditional role in homemaking.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


Pyrrhuloxia aka. Desert Cardinal
Big Bend Ranch State Park, Presidio, Texas, USA
July 2017
Member of the American Sparrow Family
§A Radiance of Cardinals§

{Etymology Corner} So, that name, huh? As you might guess, it's origin is Greek. Pyrrhuloxia used to be part of it's scientific name, but fell out of favor I guess, when we moved to the standardized binomial system, replaced by the much drier Cardinalis sinuatus. Pyrrhuloxia is the combination of Pyrrhos (Reddish-Orangish) and Loxos (Oblique), referring to the color of the bird and the shape of its bill, respectively. Information that I could not find anywhere, however, was why on earth we are still calling this bird such a bizarre name, when Desert Cardinal is right there. It seems to fly in the face of convention, convenience, and standardization. What's your take on the name, reader? Charming? Baffling? Oh, and it's pronounced pir-uh-lok-see-uh.

~true bird fact~ Pyrrhuloxia have been observed using an inventive technique for surviving spiking desert temperatures. They hang out around houses with open doors or windows with their air-conditioning on. This behavior has been seen in several desert birds, including cactus wrens and loggerhead shrikes. Take that, people who say we've made the environment worse for birds!

Gives you the impression that he could do something absolutely insane without warning
Always knows how to deal with 'desert problems'
Sort of a fatalist
Surprises you with an artistic side on occasion

You know, maybe one factor that might explain his weird name is that he was first described (to Western audiences) by...

Charles Lucien Bonaparte
1803 - 1857

A real international type, Charles was born in Paris and raised in Italy. He was, in fact, the nephew of the most famous Bonaparte, Napoleon. He moved to the United States at age 19, having already discovered a new warbler in Italy, and was so big on bird-discovering that he found a new species of storm petrel on the trip over. During his time in the states, he worked on finding new birds, publishing accounts of them, and boosting for his buddy John James Audubon in equal measure. The edition of American Ornithology that he edited contained over a hundred** new species discovered* by him. All this in only 4 years, after which he returned to Europe.

He continued to work on the scientific classification of animals, but was also active politically, helping establish the Roman Republic and defend it from the armies of his cousin, Napoleon III. And the weird names? That was definitely a theme. He named a whole genus of doves after his wife, and a bird of paradise after the concept of the republic. All things considered, Pyrrhuloxia got off easy. He had 12 kids, and died at 54. Busy guy.

*- Author's note- I always find it a little bit conflictual to describe an animal as having been 'discovered' by some European guy, when in reality it existed among whatever indigenous populations lived in its area for centuries beforehand. We'll give Charles partial credit, given that he brought knowledge of these birds to a large audience and published accounts of them, which is still something. Assume the same caveat for future descriptions of 'discovered' birds.

**- AN2- Whenever something is described as 'over a hundred', I wonder exactly how many we're talking about. I assume it's something like 103, since if it were significantly higher, you'd just say the number, right?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow aka. Desert Sparrow
Big Bend Ranch State Park, Presidio, Texas, USA
July 2017
Member of the American Sparrow Family
§A Meinie of Sparrows§

~true bird fact~ Like many desert birds, these fellas are uniquely adapted to their hostile habitat. In the case of the Black-throated Sparrow, they can go for unusually long periods of time without water, instead extracting maximum moisture from their diet of seeds and bugs. It sounds like a thirsty life. On an unrelated note, this is one of those birds that occasionally comes up where there's like, zero interesting facts about him. He sure is sharp looking though.

Lover of dried fruit - cranberry, cherry, apricot, mango, you name it
Acts decisively
Might sometimes accidentally hurt your feelings with a pointed comment
Feels driven to create a 'legacy'

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Gambel's Quail

Gambel's Quail
Big Bend Ranch State Park, Presidio, Texas, USA
July 2017
Member of the New World Quail Family
§A Battery of Quails§

~true bird fact~ A bird suited to life in their home in the Sonoran Desert, these Quails have a life cycle that mimics the desert landscape that surrounds them. In exceptionally dry years, few chicks are born and they just kinda hang in there, but in years with a good wet season, they thrive and their numbers increase dramatically.

Constantly creates a dramatic soundtrack to his own life
Prefers to drink his meals when possible (smoothies, shakes, etc)
Easily becomes jealous of the success of others
Hates/fears bugs

William Gambel
1823 - 1849

Hometown- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He got his start in naturalism going on collecting trips with his mentor, the well-known Thomas Nuttall at the age of 15 (!). By18 he set off on his own, traveling all the way west to California, taking a more southerly route than previous expeditions had. His birding contributions include this Quail, Nuttall's Woodpecker, and the Mountain Chickadee. He was the first trained naturalist (well... let's say trained in the European tradition) to spend significant time in California. He continued to explore the American West until he died at age 26 from typhoid while crossing the Sierra Nevada. Couldn't find an image of young William, but below is his final resting place, Rose Bar on the Yuba River.