Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the March 14,  2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

A Scrub Euphonia, EUPHONIA AFFINIS, is shown on the hacienda's grassy lawn above. Maybe the main reason he'd come onto the grounds is that now our dry season is really starting to crunch, day after day things getting drier, crisper, dustier and hotter. The bird in the picture seemed very hesitant to leave his spot, which was beside a curled-up leaf on the lawn where the sprinklers were going, for the curled-up leaf cupped a few drops of water. I also guess that the bird had just flown from inside the nearby strangler fig tree now heavy with ripe, spherical, marble-size figs of the color of the matter sticking to the euphonia's lower mandible.

Based on the bird's black and yellow colors, and the thick beak, northerners might think that euphonias, of which the Yucatán hosts two similar species, must be closely related to goldfinches. However, euphonias and goldfinches belong to different subfamilies. Euphonias belong to the Tanager Subfamily, the Thraupinae. Howell describes them as "small stubby tanagers."

Scrub Euphonias are fairly common in disturbed areas from Mexico to northwestern Costa Rica.

from the December 11, 2006 Newsletter issued from   Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

These mornings when I arrive at Biosphere Reserve HQ a little after dawn usually I hear high-pitched, rather tentative and shy bird-peeps. If your computer can digest WAV files you can hear them yourself at http://www.naturesongs.com/sceu2.wav.

The calls emanate from Sweet Acacia trees, ACACIA FARNESIANA, which grow abundantly on the slopes around Jalpan, just as they did in the northern Yucatan scrub. The Sweet Acacias are flowering now, their tiny mimosoid blossoms clustered into orange, spherical inflorescences about the size of large peas, on the ends of peduncles about 3/4-inch long.

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. Our acacias are heavily parasitized by mistletoes, and our main mistletoe species produces gummy fruits similar to North American mistletoes, except that they're orange instead of white. The fruits are so juicy and pretty that I ate a couple before I remembered that fruits of our North American species are regarded as poisonous. Well, you'd have to eat quite a few before getting sick.

Through the binoculars I could also see who the birds were. They were four to six chubby-looking, smallish birds with thick beaks and black and yellow plumage, reminiscent of northern male Goldfinches in nesting plumage. They were Scrub Euphonias.

These pretty little birds occur from Mexico to Costa Rica and they're fairly common. I do find them in scrub but also two months ago they'd sometimes flit around my breakfast table at Ek Balam in the Yucatan. I've also seen Scrub Euphonias on rather humid but weedy mountain slopes, so the species is somewhat flexible in its habitat requirements.

We also have Yellow-throated Euphonias here who are very similar, except that their throats are yellow instead of black. I find this species more in the scrub however. Looks like they'd have called this one the Scrub Euphonia.

from the April 24, 2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

This week, next to Old San Isidro Church, a male and female Scrub Euphonia were fussing around a certain bromeliad-covered branch of a big Cedro tree, It turned out the church pair were building a nest between two bromeliad tufts beneath a big limb, shown below:

globular nest of Scrub Euphonia, EUPHONIA AFFINIS

When the wind blew, the bromeliads as well as the nest shuddered and whipped back and forth. It seemed a precarious place for a nest, but I suspect it'll hang there for a long time.

That's a classic globular nest, like the one we saw last July occupied by mouth-gaping Yellow-throated Euphonia nestlings, Yellow-throateds being our other euphonia species. You can see that nest with nestlings at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/euphonia.htm .

In A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America Howell describes nests for the genus Euphonia, of which five species exist in Mexico, as "globular structures with a side entrance... in hanging masses of vegetation, bromeliads, tree crevices, even on mossy banks." Therefore, our nest in the picture is a pretty typical euphonia nest.