Sunday, November 22, 2015

Scaly-breasted Munia in Carlsbad

"Where do I find Scaly-breasted Munia?" Visiting birders have asked this question since late 2013 when the bird's status in California was officially changed from feral escaped cage bird to wild naturalized resident ("established population"). Scaly-breasted Munias can now officially be counted on your ABA list (American Birding Association).

According to eBird, Scaly-breasted Munias have been found in the last month in California from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border near Tijuana.

Scaly-breasted Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia (thick bill partially hidden by leaf). Carlsbad, California. October, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Scaly-breasted Munia
Juvenile male Scaly-breasted Munia.
Scaly-breasted Munias are known in the pet trade as Nutmeg Mannikins or Spice Finches. It is endemic in Asia from India to the Philippines.

I've seen these birds just about 5 times now in San Diego County. They are truly tiny birds, only 4-1/2 inches long--about the size of a goldfinch, though a bit pudgier with shorter tails. They form small flocks that give finch-like twittering calls. Though I am very good at identifying birds by their calls, I still haven't learned this bird's vocal differences--perhaps because they are in flocks and I haven't really heard just one bird call distinctly.

In San Diego County they seem to like brushy river bottoms at lower elevations. When the San Diego Bird Atlas was written in 2004, this species was "sporadic" in the county. They are now found in river bottoms near the coast the entire length of the county. They also follow the San Diego River from Mission Bay to Santee. If I had to name one location where they are most frequently encountered it would be Lake Murray. Over 100 individuals have been seen lately, though I have never seen them there. Another place where they are frequent is Batiquitos Lagoon.