Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Townsend’s solitaire.
Maybe you’ve noticed a slender gray bird sitting upright, perched atop a juniper or ponderosa. With a small head; short beak; and long, graceful tail, it sports a distinct white ring around its eye. In flight, look for faint yellow patches on the wings and white on the outermost tail feathers. During this time of year, listen for its single-note, beacon-like call. It’s probably a Townsend’s solitaire perched in the perfect location to survey its winter territory.
Solitaires live throughout the mountain west year-round. In spring, males perform obligatory flight exercises to woo mates. Once a pair bond is formed, males have been observed feeding their mates to retain loyalty. During nesting season, they build cup-shaped nests on the ground and along eroded banks. During fall, they move to lower elevations to feast on juniper and other sources such as serviceberry, elderberry and currant species. They may flutter briefly to pluck berries or swoop to the ground to pick them up. As winter ends, solitaires begin to move to higher territory. They can be found throughout pine, fir and spruce forests up to 11,500 feet, where their diet switches to insects and spiders. Both the identical-looking male and female birds are dedicated to defending their respective spaces. They chase away other birds and even attack their own reflections, perceived competitors, in windows and mirrors.
As of 2016, the State of North America’s Birds Report rated Townsend’s solitaires a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. To support this species in our backyards, it’s imperative to plant and retain fruit-bearing trees and shrubs native to southwest Colorado.
For more information on activities and to get involved in our annual Christmas Bird Count, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.