10 Desert Birds with Pictures and Adaptations.

A desert is a barren land that has little or no water. Due to this, it is hard to find many plants and animals in it.

However, few plants, animals, and birds survive in such harsh conditions due to their adaptation. The Birds that stay in the desert include

  1. Cactus Wren ( Campylorhynchusbrunneicapillus)
  2. Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer)
  3. Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
  4. Turkey Vulture (Cathartesaura )
  5. Verdin (Auriparusflaviceps)
  6. Indigo Bunting (Passerinacyanea)
  7. Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis)
  8. Hwamei (Garrulaxcarnorus)
  9. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum)
  10. Rosy-Faced Lovebird( Agapornisroseicollis)
  11. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pteroclesalchata)

Physiological Adaptations in Desert Birds

The rate at which desert birds metabolize energy is lower than the other species of birds.

This lower rate of metabolism translates into low energy expenditure, which allows the desert birds to utilize it in low food availability.

They execute hyperthermia by elevating their body temperature to 2 to 4 degrees above the average body temperature.

This leads to lower evaporative loss from the body of the desert bird. This all makes their survival in the deserts easy.

In such extreme and scanty conditions, desert birds show remarkable adaptability skills that help them thrive in the desert.

Some birds and their desert adaptations are mentioned below:

Birds of Desert and their Adaptations

Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchusbrunneicapillus)

The cactus wren is considered the largest wren type in the US. The size of this bird is close to the Spotted Towhee. 

The Cactus Wren has the following characteristics:

  • Long and rounded tail
  • Long heavy bills
  • Brown in color
  • Have white eyebrows
  • Short rounded wings

Geographical Distribution

Generally, the Cactus Wren is distributed throughout the deserts of the southwestern world.

Feeding Habits

The bird feeds on the insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, ants, etc.  Sometimes, the bird also feeds on fruits, small frogs, and reptiles.

Desert Adaptations

Cactus Wrens are normally seen perching on the top of shrubs and cacti plants. It is said that the birds perch on the cacti to announce their presence.

As they do not feed on any plant product, they can thrive in the desert with the least hindrance.

Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer)

Lucifer Hummingbird (By: Greg Lavaty/Flikr)

Lucifer Hummingbirds are a species of sexually dimorphic birds.

The male birds are characterized by having iridescent plumage and a purple-colored gorget.

The gorget flares on the sides.

While females are characterized by iridescent green plumage with a cinnamon patch on the upper part of feathers.

Geographical Distribution

Lucifer Hummingbirds are generally found in the deserts of northern and central regions of Mexico. Some parts of West Texas also witness these birds in their deserts.

Feeding Habits

The birds feed on the nectar of plants, such as anisacanth, penstemon, and agave. In some instances, they also feed on insects.

Desert Adaptations

Hummingbirds are specially adapted to thrive in deserts.

Because they feed on forage found in the biome, the bird can easily survive in the harsh conditions of the desert.

Apart from this, the Lucifer Hummingbirds have the feature of developing a unique call in the form of shrill shrieks to announce their presence in the desert and conserve their energy.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

road runner bird

Greater Roadrunner is found in the desert and has the following characteristics:

  • Have a straight tail
  • Have a long neck
  • Slightly curved bill
  • The Head has a short crest

Geographical Distribution

The bird is found in dry open countries like North America. The bird is restricted to only the desert area.

Feeding habit

The roadrunner species eat insects, other birds, small reptiles, mice, and fruits. They also feed on the matter that falls on the ground.

Desert Adaptations

The Greater Roadrunner runs very rapidly on the road of the deserts. When they encounter their prey, they run swiftly to follow them. 

They also cock their tail up when they hunt. The rapid running makes them thrive in the hostile conditions of the desert.

The toe is modified to run fast on the grounds of the desert.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartesaura)

Turkey vultures

These birds are designed to live life on carrion (decaying flesh of animals). They can also wait for their meals for a few days and thereby conserve their energy.

Turkey Vulture has a good sense of eyesight which helps in citing the feed in the desert.

They have wrinkled heads and lack feathers.

Geographical Distribution

These birds are found in warmer parts of Europe and America. Some parts of Africa and Asia also witness these birds.

Feeding habits

They are insectivorous. They feed on small insects, dead animals, etc

Desert Adaptations

They are keen hunters and have the ability to sight their feed from a very long distance. They have insulated bodies to prevent themselves from the heat of the desert.

Verdin (Auriparusflaviceps)

verdin bird

Verdins are seen in the desert as Gray birds. The young Verdins are characterized by having.

  • Gray plumage
  • short bills
  • thick bases
  • pointed tips

As the Verdins grow, they start glowing yellow-colored feathers on their heads and chestnut-colored feathers on their shoulders. This marks their growing-up phase.

Geographical Distribution

Verdins are commonly found in thorny shrub areas of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

Feeding Habits

Verdin birds commonly feed on insects like beetles, larvae, caterpillars, and tiny spiders. They, at times, also feed on fruits like berries and tiny seeds.

Desert Adaptations

Verdins stay in the shaded part of the desert to protect themselves from the desert’s scorching heat.

They nest up their nests in the opposite direction of the wind to get cooler temperatures. All this adds up to their coping mechanism.

Indigo Bunting (Passerinacyanea)

indigo bunting

As the name suggests, the birds have beautiful blue plumage with dark-colored legs. They have short beaks, and the males have blue plumage or darker blue plumage in breeding seasons.

The females and juvenile Indigo birds have brown-colored plumage with a tinge of blue on their tails.

Geographical distribution

The eastern parts of North America and the southern parts of Coniferous forest regions are the habitats of Indigo Bunting birds.

Feeding habits

These birds don’t drink water specifically, but they fulfill their water needs from the matters they take up.

They eat up the insects like beetles, small spiders, caterpillars, herbs, berries, and seeds of grasses.

Desert Adaptations

These birds are categorized into migratory birds. They can fly up to 3500 km in flocks at night.

Their feeding habits are also in alignment with the desert conditions, making them adjustable to the condition. 

In the breeding seasons, they leave the desert land.

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis)


These birds show sexual dimorphism. Males have a white and black colored body. They have tan heads and bellies with a red crown patch. 

Female possesses the same plumage as males do.  But females lack crown patches.

Geographical distribution

Gila Woodpeckers are distributed in southeast California, southwest Nevada, Southern Arizona, and some parts of Mexico.

Feeding habits

These birds mainly feed on insects. But sometimes, they also feed on cactus fruits, some small berries, etc.

These desert birds are good at licking up sugary water from the plants also.

Desert Adaptations

This species of woodpecker is famous for its flexible head and neck muscles. The long and pointed beak also helps in pecking into hard materials in the desert.

Further, their diet also does not contain water, making them thrive in the desert for a longer time.

Hwamei (Garrulaxcarnorus)

These birds are medium-sized desert birds that have olive-brown plumage, grey bellies, and some faint bars on the tails.

Their eyes are also encircled by some eye rings and lines from behind.

Geographical Distribution

Hwamei birds are endemic in the western and southern parts of China and some regions of Laos.

Feeding habits

These desert birds are also insectivorous. They feed on insects like locusts, beetles, caterpillars, and seeds of crops.

During the breeding seasons, they feed on seeds and crops.

Desert Adaptations

They are sometimes referred to as the “melodious laughing thrush.” They sing a melodious song that is distinct from their species.

They primarily feed on insects which makes them survive in the desert. Hwamei birds are difficult to find in the wild.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum)

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

These bird species are the most numerous in the Glaucidium genus. These birds show the following characteristics.

  • Have distinct black marks on their napes
  • The distinct colored tails
  • Large rounded heads
  • Have dull grayish plumage with underparts.

Ferruginous birds face a lot of dangers in their habitat. They are considered endangered in Arizona.

Geographical Distribution

These birds have a variety of habitats in the lowlands. Some parts of the US and Argentina have also witnessed these birds in the desert.

Feeding habits

These types of owls are active near dawn and dusk. They feed largely on the insects like crickets, beetles, caterpillars, small rodents, lizards, and scorpions.

Desert Adaptations

Ferruginous Pygmy Owls are not migratory birds. They remain in the desert throughout their life span.

These birds nest up nests in tree cavities or cacti holes. 

These holes are made up of woodpeckers, and these owls make use of it. 

The insectivorous nature of these owls makes them thrive in the harsh conditions of the desert.

Rosy-Faced Lovebird(Agapornisroseicollis)

Rosy Faced Lovebird

At primary times, these birds were called Peached-faced Lovebirds. They are identifiable due to their rose to peach-colored faces.

This lovebird has green plumage with tinges of blue on their backs. They look lovely in appearance.

Geographical Distribution

In some parts of southwestern Africa, these birds are endemic. The parts like Namibia and Northern Cape Province.

Feeding Habit

Their diet comprises small fruits, small seeds, seed pods, and cactus fruits.

Desert Adaptations

The lovebird is fully adapted to live in deserts. These birds are dependent on the water sources in the desert.

When water is unavailable or little in the desert, these birds may also show some nomadic tendency.

These adaptations of lovebirds make a living good in the desert.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pteroclesalchata)

Pin tailed Sandgrouse

Sandgrouse birds also show sexual dimorphism.

The male bird has colorful plumage that consists of a yellowish face, upper chest, neck, and golden spots on the shoulders and back. 

The female birds are less colorful than the male ones. They have a whitish chin and greyish wings with black patches.

Geographical Distribution

These desert birds are commonly found in semi-arid parts of northwestern Africa, the Middle East, North America, south-eastern Turkey, and some regions of Europe.

Feeding Habits

These birds feed on small seeds and small plants found in the desert. Sandgrouse can also feed on leaves, short shoots, and flowers.

Desert Adaptations

As they live in semi-arid regions of the desert, they show a good sense of adaptability there. Because of their dense plumage, they don’t feel hot in the harsh weather of the desert.

Further, the feathers also give insolation to the bird against the hot condition of the desert.


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