The tiny, active, and vocal Verdin might be thought of as the Southwest’s answer to the chickadee–in fact, its scientific name (Auriparus flaviceps) means “the yellow-headed golden chickadee.” Get a little closer, however, and you’ll see a very different bird. In fact, the Verdin is without close relatives anywhere on the continent. Not only is it the only member of its genus, but it’s the only representative of its family (Remizidae, or the “penduline tits”) in the Americas! Penduline tits are known (and named) for their elaborate hanging nests, and the Verdin is no exception, constructing an intricate orb of twigs bound with spider silk. Construction is a family affair, with the male constructing the outer shell while the female takes care of lining the interior. Apparently unsatisfied with one home, however, the Verdin also constructs “roosting nests” for the winter–more casual affairs that nevertheless are essential for the bird’s survival. At 4.5 inches long and weighing only a quarter ounce, Verdins are among the smallest passerine birds in North America, and since they don’t migrate, they need shelter from the brutally cold winters. Roosting nests can reduce the energy they have to expend keeping warm by as much as fifty percent! Although their range barely extends into Central Texas, Verdins can be seen and heard year-round west of the Balcones Escarpment.
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