Page:Auk Volume 13-1896.djvu/74

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"28 Merriam, Nesting Habits of Phainopepla nitens. Jan. NESTING HABITS OF PHAINOPEPLA NITENS IN CALIFORNIA. BY FLORENCE A. MERRIAM. At Twin Oaks, San Diego County, California, in the spring of 1894, I had unusual opportunities for studying Phainopeplas. Five or six pairs nested in the valley and collected to eat the berries of the pepper trees in my front yard. I counted as many as four males and two females on the trees at one time. In feeding, the birds occasionally flew against a bunch of berries, as Chickadees do, clinging while they ate ; and I once saw one hover before a bunch while eating, as a Hummingbird whirrs under a flower. More frequently they lit on a branch from which they could lean over and pick off the fruit at leisure. I never actually saw them eat anything but peppers, but at one time when the brush was full of millers, the birds seemed to be catching them; and they sometimes made short sallies into the air as if for insects. They did this much as a Kingbird does, flying up obliquely and going down the opposite side of the angle. Their flight was interesting. In leaving the pepper trees to go back to their nesting ground, they uniformly rose obliquely high into the air, — sometimes, I should judge, as high as one hun- dred feet, — and then flew on evenly, straight to their destination, several pairs going so far that they would disappear up a side canon, or, as black specks, would be lost in the fog clown the valley. When watching the flight of Phainopeplas, Mourning Doves often passed close beside me, and I was struck by the contrast in motion. The Dove cut the air, swerving to one side as it flashed by, and its free whirling flight served to emphasize the calm, even rowing of the Phainopepla. Occasionally the birds flew in an undecided way, still high and even, but changing their direction by sudden jerks. Frequently, when nearing the nest tree, a male would close his wings and shoot obliquely down, tilting his tail for a brake. One of them used to fly in at a height of about ten feet, waver as he came near, as if slowing up, and then after turning his head to look down and place the nest, tilt down in the usual labored way, his tail pressing the air. Not