This week’s bird had me stumped for a little bit. I saw this bird really far away, perched high in a tree. At first glance I thought it was an American Robin, or perhaps a Northern Mockingbird, but it was too thin and long. So I whipped out my zoom lens and snapped a few photos. It wasn’t until I was reviewing them later that I confirmed it’s true identity: a Townsend’s Solitaire! This bird was a new one for me (a “lifer” in the birding community).
The Townsend’s Solitaire, as I learned, is about the same size as a Robin, but slimmer, and perches nearly straight up. They are a smooth gray color with a clearly defined white eye ring. The feathers at the side of their tail are white as well. And when they’re seen they’re almost always alone – hence the “Solitaire” in their name.
Their range is quite extensive, depending on the time of the year. In the winter they live in the Western U.S. and down into Mexico, but their breeding ground is much further north, extending well into Northwestern Canada and the Southeastern corner of Alaska. While they are here they will establish a territory where they will munch on juniper berries or other, similar foods. In addition to their diet of berries, Townsend’s Solitaires enjoy mistletoe, Hackberry, and other fruits. They prefer to live in low scrub areas as we have on the Mesa west of Rio Rancho.
They will only be here for a few months, at which time they will return to the north to nest and breed. They prefer to nest on the ground, usually in a protected place like a hollow log or a snag of branches. When eggs are laid there are anywhere from three to six if them that hatch after about 11 days. Both parents feed the young, and their offspring will typically leave the nest after about another 14 days.
Its always exciting to see new birds and to learn about another species! This week’s bird was particularly interesting for me, since I was so confused initially!