Apologies right up front for the poor photos with this post. Since the Townsend’s solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) is one of the prime birds responsible for the juniper trees that grow along fencelines, I want to mention this gray bird with a long tail while still on the topic. I only had some poor pictures but was not concerned – there are always solitaires on the juniper trees (Juniperus occidentalis) in our wildlife area. Yesterday I went up to the wildlife area thinking I could have a hundred pictures in ten minutes. Wrong!! There was not a solitaire to be found. I hiked around for a half hour then sat near some juniper trees heavy with berries for another forty-five minutes. No solitaires!! I did not even hear any calls from these vocal birds. Oh well, these pictures from earlier last year were taken on Lower Hat Creek (Shasta County CA). I will post some better solitaire pictures when they are not so elusive.
A thrush, the Townsend’s solitaire is a resident of the high western mountains. In the summer it feeds on insects, spiders and some berries, while in the winter it survives almost exclusively on fleshy juniper berries (cones). Both sexes of the solitaire are strongly territorial in the winter, defending their patches of junipers from solitaires and other birds. Only those solitaires that have a large supply of juniper berries will survive the winter. Violent fights occur when territories are invaded. I find it difficult to believe that any birds can survive solely on those bitter berries.
Since it eats only juniper berries in the winter, the Townsend’s solitaire is one of the primary means of seed dispersal. When one sees junipers growing along fencelines it is quite probable that a solitaire “planted” it there.
Townsend’s solitaires conspicuously perch singly on the highest branch available. That is probably where their name derives. If solitaires are around it is easy to find by scanning the top branches of the junipers. I do not know where they were yesterday.