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What do I know about Warblers?

Musings from the Hill

A volume of The Peterson Field Guide has more than 650 pages devoted to Warblers.

To the best of my knowledge, not a single one has made it into one of my Musings. A pity. I do have photographs of many – well, some – but suspect I’ve ignored them because they don’t pose at my feeders.

I have to “catch” them (camera only) in the cherry trees, conveniently just beyond my windows or, sadly, once in a while one requires hospital care in the observation cage. Most then just need a good rest and they’re on their way. (Again, my cat Gloria has no interest in birds. She may have tried once – but not that I know of — and given up when she realized the effort it would take. Gloria is not an ambitious cat.

Let’s turn first to Jon Dunn and Kimball Garrett who wrote this book and begin: “North American warblers, or wood-warblers, have long captivated birders with their diversity, bright plumages, sprightly behavior, and spectacular migrations.”

Identifying them, however, becomes difficult because some related species tend to look alike – especially the females and the youngsters. Then too they are also very active, preferring trees (as I said) so deciding what bird you’re seeing can be a real problem. Lastly their colors vary by the season.

Then you learn that defining a warbler can also be confusing for many birds given that name really aren’t. My Guide prefers we call them wood-warblers although the book does include “chats,” “redstarts,” “waterthrushes,” “parulas,” “yellowthroats,” and “ovenbird.” In case your head isn’t in a whirl yet, the “parulas” is Latin for warbler or, more literally, the diminutive form of Parus, or titmouse.

One more and then we’ll go look at a bird or two: “There are some 115 species of New World warblers, of which slightly more than half occur in North America north of Mexico. The greatest diversity of breeding wood-warbler species occurs in eastern North America” .

And the largest number of any warbler I’ve seen is the Yellow Warbler. With few exceptions, I’ve counted them at least once annually, generally in May though they have also popped in June (three times). Once in July and August of 2016 I saw a juvenile, they of the striped chest. I’ve already counted three this May.

Let’s turn again to the Peterson Guide: “This familiar and abundant bird of broadleaf woodlands and thickets has the most widespread breeding range of any of the wood-warblers, and it shows the strongest geographical variation.”

They aren’t particularly gregarious (well, then I’m not either) especially during the winter-time when they want to be alone, keeping their own territory. They might form a “loose” concentration when they migrate.

I found it of particular interest that they are often well-studied Brown-headed Cowbird hosts because of the wide range of their breeding area. Most Yellow Warblers recognize the eggs of the cowbird and will leave the nest permanently or else bury the eggs, even with one or more birdlings of their own, making a new layer on top. Record six layers have been found. Cowbird parasitism can be up to 30-40%. It’s possible there are local areas where the numbers are even higher.

I’ve found enough good pictures in my album so may share more wood-warblers in the not too distant future.

And, indeed, most have at least some yellow coloring on their bodies.

Susan Crossett has lived in Arkwright for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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