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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Babblers, homebodies, and featherballs!

Do you recognize this bird when seen up-close?


Wrentits (Chamaea fasciata) are more often heard than seen, so don't worry if you weren't certain of the identification.  And their tails are actually one of their more distinctive features, so here's another view with the long tail being held off to the side:


This photograph was taken near the start of the Pinnacle Gulch Trail.  

Many of you know that although I've been living in California for 9 years now, I still have a lot to learn about the local wildlife.  This is especially true for species that are limited to the West Coast and aren't encountered elsewhere in the country.  Wrentit is a good example.

On Bodega Head, I've listened to Wrentits sing in Owl Canyon and around Campbell Cove.  But I haven't done much reading about them.  So tonight I started perusing the Birds of North America account and learned a few interesting things right away:

- Wrentits are the only representative of the Old World babblers found in North America.  (Babblers are a very large, diverse family of songbirds primarily found in tropical areas of Europe/Asia/Africa.)

- Wrentits are homebodies.  Their average natal dispersal distance is only 400 meters!  That means that young birds generally nest within 400 meters (1312 feet or 1/4 mile) of where they were raised.

- Wrentit breeding pairs are monogamous and both the male and female defend their territory by singing.  According to the Birds of North America, "The male habitually shares in incubation and is normally in vocal contact at all times with the female, and the pair is even known to roost together, forming contiguous "featherballs," and to mutually preen."

I was so intrigued by the term "featherball" that I did a Google search for it, hoping to find an image of Wrentits roosting together.  Unfortunately, I didn't come up with one.  Babblers in general are supposed to be known for soft, fluffy plumage, so here's one more image that perhaps hints at that characteristic and will allow you to visualize a Wrentit featherball for yourself!

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