How Verdin Got His Colors

By Ann McDermott

It is said that there was once a day, after shining for eons of similar days, that the Sun thought to look over the face of the Earth, seeking his closest relative.

Every day I shed light which the Earth takes and makes into new creatures. Surely one of them shows my attributes and can be called my kin.

I am so far away from all Earth Mother's activity down there that I need to see myself in at least one creature. All of them resemble her. They are obviously made of her substance. But where is mine? If I can find kin among them, I'll have reason to keep shining my light on her. But what is the use of my efforts if none of the life on Earth even resembles me?

A passing Cloud heard the Sun's musings. Without taking its eyes from the shadow it was playfully casting over the landscapes below, it made a suggestion.

You are hot, so hot you make me rise from the waters of Earth below, but were I to approach closer, I know I would disappear. So I stay only this high and no higher. Look in the hottest places for your closest relative among those below.

Then too, you are high above the Earth. None is higher than you in the day sky. You should look for your closest relative among the creatures who can leave the earth to approach you, but not fly so high as to be able to challenge your authority.

Then too, you are always in motion. You never stop walking across the sky. I have seen that some of the life below is slow and lazy, but much is not. Your close relative will be found among those who never rest during the day, as you do not.

Sun considered Cloud's suggestions and thought Cloud's assessment practical and accurate. Sun was always hot, always high over Earth and always moving.

Surely his closest relative on Earth would show those attributes.

He would begin his search where Cloud suggested, in the hottest places on Earth, in a creature that could rise above the Earth, but not so high as to challenge his authority, and in a creature that was in constant motion all day.

He discovered quickly that the hottest places on Earth were deserts and the hottest of these had fewer varieties of life than other parts of the planet. One seemed a good balance between hot temperatures and enough occupants that his search for kin would be successful.

In this desert, a huge Saguaro cactus lifted its limbs to the sky...high, but not so high as to challenge his authority. It withstood his heat, was not too high, but it did not move except for a gentle rocking in a steady wind, and that was hardly enough to qualify as his close kin.

He watched an eagle, golden in Sun's light, circling on widespread wings over the desert below. Higher and higher it rose on the air currents and its own strength. It could not come up as high as Sun, but it approached much higher than Saguaro had done and, frankly, Sun worried. He thought Eagle must envy his high status and did not trust kin such as this to remember its place and not challenge him. Eagle would not qualify as close kin for it could not be trusted.

Eagle is a bird, though, Sun reflected. My kin will be found among birds, for birds can fly and approach me. But perhaps a bird that only flies as high as Saguaro can reach would be best. That is high enough, but not so high as to displease me.

So Sun focused on the birds of Earth below, in the desert that held the Saguaro.

He was so intent on his search that Earth parched in his mid-day radiance and heat waves rose to obscure his vision.

Nevertheless, in amongst the green foliage of a thorny acacia, he noticed a gray creature bobbing on the very tip of a branch, scouring it for tiny insects to eat. Having snatched a morsel, it was off to a new branch, dancing between the leaflets, seeking a new snack with eager beak and dashing demeanor.

Tiny it was...not a challenge to his authority at all, and it never seemed to fly higher than the trees, which meant not higher than Saguaro could reach.

Always in motion it was...never pausing in its busy-ness, never napping, ever flitting, industrious as he in every way.

Even in the worst heat of the day it seemed undaunted.

Surely, this creature is one of my own, said Sun.

He reached out to grab it in its constant fluttering flight. He wanted to bring it closer for a better look, tiny as it was. He grasped it at its shoulders.

Ouch, wailed the little bird, ticking aloud in its distress.

Oh, hold still for just a moment and let me look, said Sun. I won't be long. I'm looking for a close relative and you may just be the one I seek.

So what? replied the bird. What if I am close kin? I don't care. Just set me free so I can eat. And do hurry up about it. I can smell my feathers burning.

What is your name? asked Sun.

Verdin, answered the bird. Now, let gooooo.

By this time Sun could smell feathers burning too. It was not a delightful smell, so he did let go.

Verdin, announced Sun, is obviously close kin, for he flew, he loved heat, and he hated to sit still even long enough for me to make his acquaintance.

And that's why to this day Verdin has a face turned yellow from looking Sun in the eye, and red scorch marks on his shoulders, where Sun was holding him. These mark him as Sun's closest relative on Earth.

Satisfied with his findings, Sun decided to continue to send Earth light each day for making more creatures. She was providing them with his attributes too.

This male Verdin was photographed by Earl Robinson. The Verdin, a desert specialty, ranging from southeast California to Texas, is a very small bird, only slightly larger than our common hummingbirds. Adult verdins have characteristic yellow heads, whereas the juveniles are a uniform drab gray. Their diet consists almost entirely of insects. They also take nectar from flowers and sometimes try to use hummingbird feeders, but because they cannot hover, they must grasp onto it with their feet.

Ann has two wonderful books available on Amazon!

© Ann McDermott, 2003-2011
Arizona Naturalists