Watching for warblers

Spring starts and stops here; it can’t seem to really get going.  As a result, leaves have been slow to develop and that makes it a little easier to spot the flighty little warblers as they migrate through.  In fact, the cold weather seems to have slowed their normal migratory rush down a little.

Our strange spring weather and the numbers of new warbler species arriving daily means that we often get multiple species flitting around in the backyard on any given day.  Watching the warblers go about their daily hunt for food is a great illustration of a classical ecological study I learned about many years ago — Robert MacArthur’s study of niche partitioning in warblers to reduce competition.  He found that several warbler species could co-exist if they harvested the resource in different ways or from different areas of the tree.

From Biocyclopedia - Animal Ecology

From Biocyclopedia – Animal Ecology

A few examples to illustrate how one basic body type of small insectivore has specialized to divide up the food resource:

Yellow-rumped Warblers pretend to be flycatchers, “hawking” insects from the air or gleaning them from the terminal ends of branches of shrubs or trees, often flitting from the bottom to the top of one tree, or the top of one to the bottom of another.

yellow rumped warbler-male-2

Orange-crowned Warblers poke around in the leaf litter on the forest floor or into the newly emerging clumps of leaves on the branches of shrubs.

female orange crowned warbler

Black and White Warblers are nuthatch-“wannabes”, foraging upside down along the trunk and large branches of big trees.  They are constantly on the move and really hard to get in focus.

black and white warbler

Yellow Warblers prefer to forage among the branches of shrubs and trees along streams or other wetland areas.  Their bright color really makes them stand out among the willow branches.

yellow warbler

Ovenbirds and Waterthrushes are the largest warblers and prefer to forage in damp, swampy marshes or moist forest floor.

northern waterthrush

Those are just the ones I have seen in my backyard so far.  There are still more species arriving to fatten up for the last push toward the breeding grounds in the Canadian coniferous forest. Hopefully, I will get some photos of them too.

10 thoughts on “Watching for warblers

    • Thanks, Mike. My expectations for good photos have gone way up since I started using the borrowed lens, and I am not satisfied unless I can fill the frame with bird!!

    • Thanks, Tricia. I am getting spoiled by having all these colorful warblers flying through and will miss the birding opportunities when they leave.

  1. What perfect timing for this post. Yesterday, we took a family bike ride (little one in the Burley) down Summit before stopping by UST (unrecognizable these days) and heading to a park to fly a kite. Anyway, gliding down the hill just West of Snelling I had a pair of Yellow-Rumped Warblers veer out only a few feet in front of me and pace me for a few seconds. It was a really cool view of the birds and made it feel as if I was almost flying along with them!

    • Those yellow-rumps are everywhere. What a great view you had. Now if you could just hold a camera steady while riding your bike, you would have had a great photo.

      • Another Warbler sighting! Yesterday on our way home from the park, my wife (also a BYB follower) spotted a little bird with an orange throat flitting around the buds of a tree along the boulevard. A quick reference to the bird app on my phone confirmed the little guy to be a Blackburnian Warbler. What pretty little bird, and he did not seem to care at all that we were only 5-6 feet away from him…albeit vertically, but the still seemed to be a pretty brave move to me.

        • Ooh, I’m jealous. Haven’t seen one of those yet, and would definitely like to get their photo.

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