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Winter Warblers in Ohio, part 2: A Handsome Cold-Weather Bird.

January 28, 2012

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

When you say ‘warbler’, most people think of small bright birds moving through trees full of leaves.  And that makes sense- most warblers are encountered in warm weather.  They are a highlight of the spring migration, when their plumage is at maximum color.  Some species summer over in Ohio, raising families before heading south in the autumn.

However, there is one warbler that makes Ohio its cold-season home.  This bird is not here because of injury or illness that prevents it from migrating- it surprisingly copes with the cold weather as a matter of course.  Yes, some of these birds like Ohio winters!

The Yellow-Rumped Warbler is Ohio’s only regular winter warbler.  In the summer, it nests as far north as Alaska’s coniferous forests; in winter, it travels south as far as Central America.  But it can and does winter as far north as the Canadian border area, including Ohio.  How can it winter in such cold locations?

This bird is one of the larger warblers, which helps it retain body heat.  But its most adaptive feature is its ability to digest waxy berries such as bayberry or wax myrtle- the latter is the berry that gave this bird the name of Myrtle Warbler (before ornithologists reshuffled a couple of species and combined them into one).  While they eat insects when they are available, berries and even occasional seeds are consumed- a rather un-warbler-like thing to do.  But this versatility in their diet allows them to winter in such places as Ohio.

In cold weather, the males and females look very similar- brown and white with yellow patches on their rump and beneath their wings.  By spring migration, the males are wearing a more colorful outfit of blue-gray, black and white to complement their yellow patches.  Both sexes have an incomplete white eye ring and white wing-bars.  The underside of the tail is white, too.

In spring and summer, like other warblers, they pair off to raise nestlings.  But in the winter, like many other birds, they tend to flock together.  I’ve seen them singly, in pairs and in small groups this winter- it often seems that they are associated with mixed feeding flocks of other species.  Interestingly enough, there is a warbler hierarchy with some species higher or lower on the ‘pecking order’ when they feed together in warm weather.  But now, in winter’s cold, there’s less species around to squabble over berries.

This bird makes a distinctive call which helps in its identification.  The sound is a short sharp hollow-sounding ‘check’, which, with a little practice, can be readily distinguished from sparrow calls.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers are a common species, so they’re not difficult to see.  They seem to thrive on their varied diet.  I always enjoy running across them in the depths of winter, giving a small glimpse of the colorful warbler season to come next spring.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2012 4:36 pm

    Excellent post as always! The yellow rumped warblers often keep me company while I am trout fishing in northern Michigan. They seem to love the water, especially in the evening, when I’ll see them bathing quite often.

  2. Northern Narratives permalink
    January 28, 2012 4:52 pm

    We love to see the warblers return in the spring 🙂

  3. January 28, 2012 5:05 pm

    Great post and photos about one of my favorite winter birds. 🙂

  4. John Northcutt Young permalink
    January 28, 2012 5:11 pm

    The warbler in the branches photograph is amazing.

  5. January 28, 2012 5:30 pm

    Your photos of this bird are wonderful. So happy to hear that they survive the winter up here. I’ll have to keep a look out for sure. The Warblers are the birds I’m most anxious to see when Spring comes. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information with us.

  6. January 28, 2012 9:27 pm

    That’s a bird that we hardly ever see here in winter, although one was seen a few miles away from here last week. Seemed to be doing well.

  7. January 28, 2012 11:53 pm

    You get such great bird photos – I always enjoy your posts!

  8. Jo Woolf permalink
    January 29, 2012 2:40 am

    Lovely photos, and very interesting post.

  9. January 29, 2012 11:23 am

    Interesting post! I’d love to see one of these little beauties in my yard.

  10. January 29, 2012 5:14 pm

    Thanks for the beautiful photos and always interesting info! Margie

  11. January 29, 2012 7:41 pm

    Gorgeous – and I admire your patience in taking these photos 🙂

  12. mthew permalink
    January 29, 2012 9:23 pm

    They are the only warbler found on the northeast coast in winter as well. Small flocks often brighten up the scrub behind the dunes with their “butter butts.” They can evidently eat bayberries, too.

  13. January 30, 2012 1:01 am

    Great shots. This is one of my favorite visitors, though they’re quite scrappy this time of year. I did notice they move from feeder to feeder, trying a bite of everything.

  14. January 30, 2012 9:31 am

    It always amazes me how something so small can tolerate such cold or adverse conditions. Your post and photos are great and filled with interesting thoughts and info. 🙂

  15. January 31, 2012 11:49 am

    I love love love these bird shots. You are just incredible with a camera! 🙂

  16. February 1, 2012 9:35 am

    I started to wonder if this is what flocks to our bird feeders until you mentioned they are not seed eaters. Guess we just have the regular sparrows.

  17. February 3, 2012 7:31 am

    Lovely post, I love the photos! Warblers are such sweet birds 🙂 And I imagine that flash of yellow is a nice addition of colour in the long winter!

  18. February 4, 2012 8:23 am

    I love the expression on the warbler’s face in the third picture! Wonderful pictures!

  19. February 4, 2012 9:53 am

    Lovely–so true how the birds who stay stand out.


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