[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I checked out several locations in the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park today including a long look around the Community Gardens at Hollister St and Sunset Ave. There seemed an endless number of Song Sparrow and House Finch but in among the cacophony of calls I heard something distinctly different. After some stalking around the allotments, distracted by some good looking vegetables, I finally located the calling bird. I was surprised to find a female Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura, the first time I have seen this introduced cage-bird exotic in San Diego County. I recall this species being reported in Orange County, to our north, and searching the SDBIRDS archive reveals one or two other reports in recent years here in San Diego County. This well marked individual, showing off a bright pink bill and striped head pattern, seemed to behave wild enough and did not appear to have any feather damage or aviculture leg bands.
The real mystery is where did this bird come from? It would be easy to explain it as a recent escape, but reports of this African species are definitely on the increase in Southern California. Surely they cannot all be escaped cage birds? Since the Pin-tailed Whydah is an obligate brood parasite, laying 2-4 eggs at a time in other species nests, if they are breeding around here what host species are they parasitising? In a recent Birding magazine interview, Kimball Garrett suggested the introduced exotic Nutmeg Mannikin Lonchura punctulata could be the host species here in Southern California. Numbers of the Nutmeg Mannikin are increasing quite dramatically at various localities around San Diego and this species is from the same family as the Whydah’s natural estrildine finch hosts back home in Africa.