Wherever I travel in the U.S., it seems there is always one chickadee species or another that fills the commonly seen, small insectivore niche. Not so in the Sonoran desert — but there is a distant relative, the Verdin, that fills the same role.
Like their chickadee relatives Verdins hunt incessantly for small insects probing crevices, in between leaves, in among cactus thorns, flitting from place to place before you can focus the camera.
Verdins are members of a bird family (penduline tits) that is distributed mostly in Eurasia and Africa — it is the sole representative of the family in North America. One of the family characteristics is the woven, hanging nests built for their chicks, and the Verdin also builds an enclosed, globular nest, but places it in the middle of thorny cactus as added protection from predators. In fact, they build two types of nests, one in which they raise their chicks, and a smaller, well insulated nest in which they roost during colder winter months.
Verdins are permanent residents of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, and seem to thrive in those hot, arid landscapes.
(all photos by Steve Chaplin, who loves lugging that heavy 400 mm lens around much more than I do.)