Townsend’s Solitaire

I wasn’t familiar with this bird so when it showed up in my back yard I had to look it up. It is larger than a sparrow but smaller than a robin and has a distinctive white band around its eye. It is named after John Kirk Townsend who collected the first Townsend’s Solitaire along the lower Willamette River in Oregon in 1835. There are 7 species of solitaire in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 species native to Hawaii, but the Townsend’s Solitaire is the only one in the continental United States. In the winter they survive on juniper berries which are abundant in our neck-of-the-woods. It is said they need to eat between 42,000 to 84,000 berried in order to survive the winter.

6 Replies to “Townsend’s Solitaire”

      1. The AOS Committee on Diversity and Inclusion is looking at all bird names that meet their criteria for change. One duck has been renamed so far. I think it will be a long process to fairly research and justify changing names.

  1. Beautiful capture of a bird I didn’t know, but . . .

    … 42,000-84,000 berries per Winter? I tracked that down to Audubon and it’s claimed from one study and estimated, but let’s crunch the numbers.

    Assuming a winter of three months, that’s 467-933 berries each day.

    Assuming a 10-hr daylight window, that’s 47-93 berries per hour. For the 47 number, it’s one berry every 76 seconds; one berry every 38 seconds for the higher number.

    I see a problem with the estimates for the lower numbers for two reasons: 1) volume, and 2) digestion.

    These aren’t small berries, so the volume issue is whether a bird could actually hold 47 inside them. I’d say no, but even if they could, they still need to process the berries to extract nutrients. Even if they can, I’m guessing they’d have to “expel” one for each one they eat (now, that would be an interesting video).

    If we’re generous and call Winter as five months, we’re still at 28/hour, one every two minutes (on average). Again, volume and digestion considerations come into play.

    A typical bird will digest a berry in about 30 minutes. That means that for the 5-Winter-months scenario, each bird would have approximately 15 berries inside them through each waking hour. I suppose it could be, but I’m skeptical of the claim.

    I’m dismissing the upper number out of hand.

    By the way, it’s surprisingly difficult finding reliable feeding data. Everything is reported as preferences and trends, but without specifics as far as amount/number.

    Anyway, the bird looks nice, especially the white around the eyes. I wish it good luck in surviving the Winter.

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