Thursday, June 23, 2016

Warbler Watching

Warblers, A Birder's Treasure

Black-and-white Warbler
North American birders are lucky to have the wood warblers to study and enjoy.  The Americas are the only place in the world with such a colourful profusion of warblers.  We have so many that some of us take them for granted.  We must appreciate (and protect) the colourful little birds that flit through our trees in the spring, summer and fall.  They come to our country to breed where we have good habitat and lots of insects to feed upon.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Most of our warblers belong to the family, Parulidae.  Most of our common warblers are of the genus, Dendroica.  We also have members of the genera, Vermivora, Parula, Mniotilta, Setophaga,  Seiurus, Oporornis, Geothlypis, Wilsonia, etc.  Many species are neotropical migrants (they move between North and South America).  For many that forces them to fly over the Gulf of Mexico, an often difficult task.

American Redstart
Most warblers are small songbirds.  Their colourful plumage in the spring is legendary.  Most have beautiful songs which fill up our spring and summer landscapes.  In the fall many warblers lose their colourful plumage and revert to dull yellows, grays, and greens, making them difficult to identify.  All species are insectivorous but some feed on fruit and nectar in the winter.  The few that overwinter here, often by accident, will feed on suet and dried fruit at feeders.  Most build a cup-shaped nest on the ground or low in bushes.

Northern Parula
Our warblers have experienced significant population declines in recent years.  It is believed the main reason is because of loss or fragmentation of habitat on both breeding and wintering grounds and during migration.  The heavy use of insecticides and nicotinoids on the wintering grounds is also causing declines.  Migration also causes high mortalities; the trans-Gulf flight, having to pass over large population areas, loss of good habitat along the route, etc.

Blackburnian Warbler

Common Yellowthroat
Warblers are often hard to see among the tree leaves.  Some often prefer to perch high in large deciduous trees, making it even harder to see them.  As a result many birders make a concerted effort to learn their songs.  Each species has a unique song and when learned one can identify the birds just by listening.  That takes skill but is very satisfying when learned.

Cape May Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler
The next time you step out into your garden or woodlot, take along binoculars and take a look at the warblers which are sharing your space.  You won't be disappointed!

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