An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Warblers

Black-and-White Warblers Raising Young

6-14-19 black-and-white warbler nest 0U1A0066One of the first warblers to return to its northern nesting grounds, the (female) Black-and-White Warbler has already built a nest, laid and incubated 4-6 speckled eggs and is now brooding and feeding nestlings.

Finding a Black-and-White Warbler nest can be challenging – these bark-foraging insect eaters usually build their well-hidden nest on the ground at the base of a tree, rock, stump or fallen log. Tucked into vegetation with the rim often at ground level, their 5-inch diameter nest blends into its surroundings. Bark strips, grass, dry leaves and pine needles are used to construct the nest which is lined with moss, horsehair and dried grasses.

The male helps the female feed the nestlings and defend the nest. Female Black-and-White Warblers have been observed performing “rodent run” distraction displays, in which the bird assumes a hunched posture and drags its tail, luring potential predators away from the nest.

The Brown-headed Cowbird is a major threat to Black-and-White Warblers as it frequently parasitizes their nests. One documented Black-and-White Warbler nest in Michigan contained 10 eggs, eight of which were laid by cowbirds. (Thanks to Susan and Dean Greenberg for photo opportunity.)

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Watching For Warblers

5-13-19 yellow warbler_U1A8433Spring migration has begun in earnest and we are at the height of warblers arriving in and passing through New England. These little jewels, especially the colorful males, are a sight to behold as they flit about in shrubs and trees, constantly gleaning insects amongst the branches, flowers and emerging leaves. Getting and keeping a warbler in your binoculars can be challenging, to say the least — these busy little birds give the Energizer Bunny a run for its money.

As to when to look for warblers, the best times (“fallouts”) are when there’s a south wind (saves birds flying north considerable energy) and a change in the weather, such as a storm. The birds are forced to seek land, which is where we find large concentrations referred to as “waves” feeding furiously to fuel the rest of their journey.

The pictured Yellow Warbler, weighing 1/3rd – 1/4th of an ounce, left its wintering ground in Central or South America and travelled perhaps as far as 4,000 miles or more in order to return to Vermont this spring.

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Yellow Warblers Courting

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Crouching, quivering her wings and issuing forth soft vocalizations, a female Yellow Warbler (in foreground) beckons to her mate, communicating her receptivity to procreation.  He proceeds to woo her with a recently-caught Mayfly (insert) which she readily swallows before consummating their relationship.  This courtship behavior by the female is practiced by many female songbirds.

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Male American Redstarts

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Warblers — small, active, insect-eating birds — are often referred to as the “butterflies of the bird world” due to the striking breeding plumage of many of the males.  One warbler that’s hard to overlook due to its brilliant orange and black plumage is the male American Redstart.  Like most warblers, it is a very active feeder, flitting from branch to branch looking for insects.  However, it also occasionally feeds like a flycatcher — perching and flying out to capture insects in mid-air, giving you the opportunity to get a good look at it.

The breeding behavior of the American Redstart is of particular interest, in that not only is the male occasionally polygamous, as are many other bird species, the two females he mates with at the same time do not nest in the same territory.  The male holds two separate territories that can be separated by as much as a quarter-mile.  The male begins attracting a second female after the first has completed her clutch and is busy incubating the eggs.  Perhaps the bird world would benefit from a “Me Too” movement.

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The Ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warbler

5-6-16 yellow-rumped warbler 031The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), formerly referred to as a Myrtle Warbler, is not hard to find during its migration due to the large numbers that pass through (as well as stay to breed in) central and northern New England.  These tiny jewels, also known as “butter-butts” because of their bright yellow rumps, are common and widespread.

Yellow-rumps are known for the diversity of their feeding techniques as well as their diet.  You are as likely to find them clinging to a tree, probing under bark or foliage gleaning for insects as you are finding them taking short bursts of flight off of a branch to snag an insect in the air.  These warblers are insect-eaters during the summer and consume a large amount of fruit during the winter.  Their ability to digest the waxes in bayberries makes them unique among warblers, and allows populations to winter along the coast as far north as Nova Scotia.

The presence of “pantaloons” on this image of a male Yellow-rumped Warbler may be due to courtship behavior.  Males hop from perch to perch, fluff out their feathers, raise their wings, erect their crown-feathers, and continuously chip in an effort to attract a female.

Should you choose to use your ears to locate this coniferous forest-loving warbler, its song can be heard at http://musicofnature.com/mary-holland/yellow-rumped-warbler/ . (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com)

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Northern Waterthrushes Singing

northern waterthrush 276If it is not singing, the Northern Waterthrush, a large wood warbler and not a thrush, can be recognized by its bobbing body and wagging tail. However, its loud, ringing song is the most diagnostic characteristic of this species, and allows one to distinguish it from its look-alike relative, the Louisiana Waterthrush. The primary song of the Northern Waterthrush has three parts, which are said to sound like a vigorous, rapid “sweet sweet swee wee wee chew chew chew chew.”

The Northern Waterthrush also has a flight song which is given on its breeding ground, typically in the evening. This song usually starts with loud, sharp, chips of increasing frequency, delivered from the ground or a low perch. The bird then flies upward through and above the canopy, singing snatches of primary song but quicker and longer, framed in a hurried jumble of half-call/half-song notes.

To hear the primary song of the Northern Waterthrush, go to http://langelliott.com/mary-holland/northern_waterthrush_1_NY.mp3. (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com & miracleofnature.org)

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Bird Nests Visible

11-25-14 black-throated blue nest  043When leaves start falling from deciduous trees, bird nests appear out of nowhere. Most songbirds abandon their nest after raising one brood, never to return to it. An empty nest sits where it was built until the elements break it down, another animal recycles the material from which it was made, or a mouse takes over winter occupancy. The period of time after the leaves fall and before winter and other creatures deconstruct the nests is ideal for discovering who raised their young under your nose this past summer.

Just as each species of bird has its own distinctive song, each species also builds a unique nest. It is often possible to determine what species built a nest without ever setting eyes on the bird. The size, shape, material used and habitat in which a nest is built are remarkably similar for all birds of a given species. Eastern phoebe nests mainly consist of mud covered with moss. Gray catbirds incorporate grape vine into their nests, and line them with rootlets. Ovenbird nests are on the ground, roofed over like old-fashioned ovens. While federal permits are necessary to collect these nests, they can be admired and identified without a permit. (Photo: the combination of this nest’s size (3” outer diameter), location (3’ off the ground) and material used (yellow birch bark strips, grasses, cocoons and black rootlet lining) pinpoint the builder as a Black-throated Blue Warbler.)

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