Last weekend, we drove out to Twentynine Palms, CA to look for a Rufous-backed Robin that had been reported there. The bird had been present for at least a week on the lush grounds of the 29 Palms Inn resort. This resort is a 70-acre oasis of greenery and water for wildlife in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and the owners and operators of the inn are very birder friendly. The 29 Palms Inn is located close to Joshua Tree National Park, in extreme south central San Bernardino County, CA.
The Rufous-backed Robin (Turdus rufopalliatus) is a slightly smaller relative of the familiar American Robin (Turdus migratorius). They are easily told from American Robins with any kind of decent look as there are many visible differences between the two species. American Robin has a bright white eye ring that Rufous-backed Robin lacks. (The orbital ring of Rufous-backed Robin is orange, roughly the same color as the iris, so it’s hard to see.) Rufous-backed Robin has extensive reddish color on the back and wing coverts where an American Robin is solid gray. American Robin has a blackish head and a white throat with short, fine, black streaking, while Rufous-backed Robin has a pale gray head and a larger white patch that extends down onto the upper breast and along the sides of the throat, and its black streaking is longer and coarser. This particular Rufous-backed Robin also had traces of orange in both the crown and the wings, something no American Robin would ever show.
Rufous-backed Robins are native to the dry, deciduous forests along the west coast of Mexico from southeastern Sonora to southeastern Oaxaca. Like American Robins, the Rufous-backed Robin will readily use manmade habitats like gardens and farms, faring quite well in those edge habitat areas. Within such habitats, they can be found on the ground or at virtually any height of the available canopy. Rufous-backed Robins are omnivorous, consuming a diet of fruits and invertebrates.
Rufous-backed Robins are uncommon but regular vagrants in the states along the Mexican border. In California, we tend to see them in fall and winter, presumably as a function of post-breeding dispersal. They are often found in the company of wintering American Robins. The 29 Palms bird was part of a loosely-associated flock of about 20 American Robins. We watched this male Rufous-backed Robin consuming palm fruits, and hopping around pulling worms out of the lawn, just like any American Robin would.
These photos were digiscoped, using a Kowa TSN-883 spotting scope, a Kowa TSN-DA10 digiscoping adaptor mounted on a Vortex PS-100 digital camera adaptor, and a Nikon CoolPix P300 point-and-shoot camera.