"Our Juniper Trees"

Townsend’s Solitaire

        solitaireWashington County has lots and lots of Juniper trees. As a kid, growing up in southern Utah, I was told "don’t eat the berries - they are toxic." Kids will eat most anything, but neither my Honey nor I have ever tasted a Juniper berry because our Grandmothers impressed on us - they would kill us.

        Almost anywhere you go in the State of Utah, there are Juniper trees. In the well-established areas they look like they have been planted . . . spaced sixteen to twenty feet apart, and the Juniper stands go on for miles and miles. Junipers make great fence posts, cedar posts, firewood, and not much else . . . at least that’s what I thought. Now I find they are a major source of food for the Townsend’s Solitaire.

        The Townsend’s Solitaire relies almost totally on Juniper berries in the winter for their food supply. Male and female Solitaires will stake out an area of Juniper trees with lots of berries and drive off all other Solitaires who try to intrude. Winter survival depends upon a good supply of Juniper berries. Juniper trees produce berries irregularly and this causes the Solitaires to be highly migratory for they have to follow the food supply of Juniper berries. During breeding season and insect time, Solitaires act like flycatchers, catching insects to feed their young hatchlings.

        I saw my first Townsend’s Solitaire one summer when I was sitting on a rock in the middle of Mammoth Creek on Cedar Mountain . . . a unique spring that pours out of the fractured face of a lava wall. This secluded, forested area where the spring bubbles up, was a great place to stop for lunch. Suddenly a little gray nondescript bird flew down and landed on a rock next to me. What was it? It was gray all over with black in the wings and tail and a distinctive white eye ring. It started to preen its feathers and I saw the color orange. I had never seen a bird like this before. Immediately I flipped out my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. As the bird continued to preen in front of me I was able to thumb through my book and there it was . . . the Townsend’s Solitaire. This made me a believer . . . if I carry a bird book, I can find what I see, and become a ‘birder’.

        Brenda Rusnell is the artist for the Townsend’s Solitaire. I hope my readers are all able to catch a glimpse of this beautiful bird, some day, soon. The Red Cliffs Audubon has monthly field trips and we will help you find one if you come. For information about birds or field trips call 435 673-0996.


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