Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the December 17, 2007 Newsletter issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W

One of our prettiest birds is the Blue-hooded Euphonia, EUPHONIA ELEGANTISSIMA. "Elegantissima" means "really, really elegant." The bird is sparrow-shaped but somewhat smaller than a House Sparrow. I can't find an Internet picture showing the gorgeous male's turquoise- blue hood, blue-black face and throat, rufous forehead, ochraceous-orange underparts and glossy blue-black upperparts, but a small, fuzzy picture of a relatively drab female at least showing the blue hood is shown here.

Right next to Inés's door, in a Sweetgum with fallish yellow leaves, most mornings I can see a male Blue- hooded Euphonia in all his rainbow glory foraging inside big clumps of orange tropical mistletoe. Try to visualize that Technicolor scene, especially the big globes of orange mistletoe amidst yellowing leaves lighted by intense morning sunlight beneath a deep, deep, high-elevation-blue sky.

In Mexico we have five euphonia species. Back in Querétaro's scrubby woods we saw black and yellow Scrub Euphonias, as reported in my Newsletter of December 11, 2006. Here's something I wrote then about some Scrub Euphonias seen in a Sweet Acacia:

"At first I thought the peeping birds must be chasing insects among the acacia's flowers but the binoculars showed that BB-size, orange, succulent mistletoe fruits were being sought."

What's interesting is that our Blue-hooded Euphonias' eating habits are exactly like that, even though our mistletoes parasitize Sweetgums, not acacias, our mistletoes' fruits are white instead of yellow and their leaves are orange instead of green. It looks like Euphonias simply have a passion for gummy mistletoe fruits whatever the color and species of mistletoe!

Euphonias as a group are small, stubby tanagers. In other words, the genus Euphonia resides in the Tanager Subfamily of the big Emberizid Family, of the Perching Bird Order. If your birding field guide is an old one it won't mention Emberizids because that's a newly constituted family, incorporating such thick-billed species as Cardinals, sparrows and tanagers. A list of birds observed here at Yerba Buena, recognizing the big Emberizid Family with the Emberizids near the end, is at http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/birds-yb.htm.

Euphonias don't normally appear north of the US border. Our Blue-hooded species is distributed from northern Mexico to western Panama.