Yellow Warbler

May is warbler migration season, and though many of those colorful neotropical birds continue on to the north, some stop to set up house here in central Ohio.  There are a couple species that are very common, nesting here through the summer.  One of those species has taken a real liking to Prairie Oaks Metro Park.

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Prairie Oaks has various different habitats, and one of the more common habitat is thickets, bushes and small trees that can be seen along the trails.  This is very attractive to certain birds, and this species is one of them:

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This is a Yellow Warbler, one of the two most abundant warbler species that nests in central Ohio (what’s the other one?  That’s for a future post!)  As you can see, this bird is aptly-named, being mostly yellow.  Males have chestnut-colored streaks on their breasts, like the fellow in the above photo.  They have a couple of short songs that they sing, including the classic sweet sweet sweeter-than-sweet!  

I’ve always liked this species- it’s the most easily-seen warbler in the summer in central Ohio.  All-yellow birds are quite noticeable and very handsome and, except when they’re nesting, they aren’t hard to spot.  Their song is easy to remember.

Yellow Warbler Portrait – ebirdr channel

Back to Prairie Oaks for a moment.  Brushy areas around water is a favorite habitat for this species, and there is plenty of that around the Darby Bend Lakes area of the park.  Last week I counted at least 10 Yellow Warblers flying about excitedly.  These guys and gals had found a great place to nest and raise their young, and there was lots of jockeying for nesting areas.  Male chased male, females kept an appraising eye out upon all of the commotion, and, to my astonishment, these birds squawked a bit at me as I walked by bushes they were in.  They were very worked up!

0514-3 (8)A male sings, guarding his territory

0514-3 (3)A female watches competitive males swarm about

0514-3 (10)This male scolds me for daring to walk by his area!

A little more about these birds…they winter over in Central and northern South America, nesting from the middle United States clear up to Alaska and northern Canada.  This is an enormous range, and there are plenty of them to fill it.  They are insect-eaters, and are (unfortunately) a common target for parasitic Brown Headed Cowbirds that lay eggs in their nests.  Up to 40% of Yellow Warbler nests have been or have been attempted to be parasitized.  Sometimes Yellow Warblers layer over Cowbird eggs and start again; nests have been found with up to 6 layers of sealed-off Cowbird eggs in them.  They even have a special call that warns that Cowbirds are near.

0514-3 (7)This bird flutters among a Cottonwood Tree’s leaves, gleaning insects

0514-3 (9)There must be plenty of insects in trees!

0514-3 (2)Warblers must have sharp eyesight to find small insects

Like some other migrating songbirds, a good many of the Yellow Warblers seen in Ohio probably flew non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico as they migrated up into the United States.  That’s a long flight with nowhere to rest, save for a passing ship or oil rig.  Imagine a bird weighing less than an ounce flying all night over hundreds of miles of sea.

0514-3 (5)Another female watches the males battle for territory from a Sycamore Tree

0514-3 (11)This male stands ready to defend his mate and his turf

0514-3 (6)Often Yellow Warblers will be concealed in heavy foliage as they sing

Typically 4-5 eggs are laid in a nest, and a month after they hatch, young Yellow Warblers are independent of their parents.  These birds usually nest only once a year.

The next time you see an all-yellow bird, perhaps it will be a Yellow Warbler.  Keep an eye and an ear out- once you hear their sweet sweet sweeter-than-sweet song you’ll not soon forget it!