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A Warbler that’s Easy to See.

May 9, 2011

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

The first half of May is peak warbler season in Ohio.  There are many birds migrating back north from tropical climates, and Wood Warblers are among the most colorful.  These little birds spend their winters as far away as Central and South America- an amazing thing for a creature that could rest lightly in the palm of your hand.  They spend much of their time eating insects found in the canopies of trees.

Warblers can be a challenge to identify for a novice birdwatcher.  There are lots of different species, singing a variety of songs.  Spring is the best time to identify them when they are moving through the trees in good numbers, before they spread out and set up territory in the summer.  Their plumage is bright then, and there is plenty of singing.  In the autumn, it can be much harder to figure them out- many then are drably-colored immature birds trekking far south for the first time in their lives, undergoing the mysterious wonder of migration.

One of the most common species of warblers in the eastern US is the Yellow-Rumped Warbler.  If you own an older field guide, this is the modern name for what used to be called the Myrtle Warbler (I’ll skip why, it doesn’t make for riveting reading).  The reason that this species is so common apparently has to do with its versatile feeding habits.  Not only will it glean insects from leaves and tree branches, but it will sometimes catch them on the wing or find them in other creative ways.  It even eats berries when bugs are hard to find- unusual for a warbler, but very useful in colder weather.  This is a hardy species, and since there are so many of them, they’re easy to spot this time of year.

Notice the patches of yellow on the rump, the sides, and a bit on the top of the head- this is a big help in identifying the male of the species.  Females lack the yellow cap, and their backs are brown instead of blue, but they still have the side and rump patches.  Another identifying feature is the sounds that they make, a hollow-sounding check note made frequently to stay in touch with a companion.  Their song is harder to describe, but  since you’ll hear it often enough you’ll recognize it after a while 🙂  It is a thin and high collection of notes, starting off distinct and then running together.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers are tame enough if you hold still while observing them, though they tend to prefer the upper reaches of trees.  One of these fellows briefly fluttered down to a lower limb not far from me, which gave me an eye-level view for a brief period (but alas, not a usable photo).

Both of these pictures are of males in breeding plumage.  Besides the color markings, you’ll notice the broken white eye ring, the white wing bars, and white tail spots (barely visible) on the underside of the tail.  These markings (or their lack) are worth noting when trying to identify a warbler.  And like most warblers, the beak is thin, separating it out from thicker-beaked seed-eaters such as finches and sparrows.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. lindell dillon permalink
    May 12, 2011 9:41 am

    I’m glad you have reconnected with birding. I’ve always had an interest in nature, but didn’t start keeping a bird list until 2009. My interest in nature is still broader than birds, but I really enjoy watching and photographing birds. I can tell from your comments that you do to. I enjoyed reading your blog.

    I have another blog I keep on a pair of bluebirds that nest in our back yard. It’s on the blogroll at reddirtpics.

    • May 12, 2011 11:21 am

      Thank you! Your photography is very well-done; I’ve spotted your bluebird blog as well, and am enjoying it. I had never heard of wing-waving before!

      I’m getting a better camera, which will hopefully improve the images I post here. Photography is a hobby that complements nature observation very well 🙂

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