Monday, January 3, 2011

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend's solitaire visited our yard yesterday. Myadestes townsendi was named by Audubon for naturalist John Kirk Townsend. Townsend and Thomas Nuttall undertook a western US expedition in 1834. Both collected many plant and animal specimens undescribed to science. Nearly a seventh of the bird plates of Audubon's Birds of America were from Townsend's collection efforts. Though considered a genius and well skilled, circumstances of life prevented Townsend from attaining the ornithological notoriety of John James Audubon. An account of Townsend accomplishments can be found in Audubon to Xantus: The Lives of those Commenmorated in North American Bird Names (Barbara and Richard Mearns 1992).Townsend did publish a humorous, historical account of the expedition in 1839 that sold out in three weeks. J.K. Townsend died 11 days after Audubon passed away.

Townsend's Solitaire is a frugivore, most pronounced in the winter time. A favored fruit are juniper berries. The wax coating on these berries is an important nutritional component. A short essay in The Birders Handbook (Ehlich, Dobkin & Wheye 1988) outlines this and the importance of wax substances for many bird species. I especially found the explanation for the expression "whole ball of wax", way cool. Wax is a major structual component of many marine species, especially shrimp, which seabirds eat. Young seabirds keep a ball of wax in their stomachs to draw nourishment from, between extended periods of adult feeding :-)