Old friends in new places

The spring migration of birds through the midwestern U.S. brings a diverse richness to our local avifauna.  Traveling in the northern reaches of Minnesota this past weekend, we met up with a few of those migrants on their summer breeding grounds.

We saw Chestnut-sided Warblers everywhere we went in northern Minnesota’s mixed deciduous-coniferous forests.  Males were still highly territorial, singing continuously, even while foraging.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler with attitude.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler with attitude.

One of the most common and easily recognized of the warblers during the summer, Chestnut sided Warblers breed in extreme northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canadian mixed forest before migrating back to Central America for the winter.  But they actually prefer second growth forest with shrubby understory where they forage, so their numbers have increased with logging of old growth forests.

Still singing...

Still singing…while nibbling on a bug.

But open-mouthed singing really helps them crank up the volume.

But open-mouthed singing really helps them crank up the volume.  

Being able to ID birds by song is essential in the leafy forest; actually being able to hear well enough to find them where they are singing is even more essential. We manged to see and identify Yellow-rumped, Black and White, Mourning, Black-throated Green, Yellow, and Common Yellowthroat Warblers.  Ovenbirds were ubiquitous in the forest as well.

I didn't get much of a look; this was the only shot I took of a Common Yellowthroat Warbler.

I didn’t get much of a look; this was the only shot I took of a Common Yellowthroat Warbler.

The most commonly heard bird in the forest was undoubtedly the Red-eyed Vireo.  Singing (loudly and continuously) from the tops of trees obscured by dense vegetation, we could hear them everywhere, but never saw one until we visited the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca State Park.

Usually not even this obvious, Red-eyed Vireos hide in plain sight by sitting above a dense patch of vegetation and singing loudly and continuously.

Usually not even this obvious, Red-eyed Vireos hide in plain sight by sitting just above a dense patch of vegetation.  Their pale white ventral coloration blends in perfectly with the open sky, so you really need to see their head or some movement to spot them.

We lured this bird down and out in the open by playing his song back to him.  He responded by buzzing us several times overhead and singing---loudly.

We lured this bird down and out into the open by briefly playing his song back to him. He responded by buzzing us several times overhead and singing—loudly.

A determined ornithologist once counted the number of songs sung by one individual Red-eyed Vireo male over the course of one day — an astounding 22,197 songs in 14 hours from dawn to dusk.  The bird sang for 10 of those 14 hours.

xx

They really are red-eyed, but the large dark pupil obscures the red in dim light.  The red-tinted iris develops after the first year; before that, the eyes are brown.

Hardly bigger than a warbler, these vireos also consume a wide variety of insects all summer but increase the amount of fruit in their diet during the fall and in their winter habitat throughout South America.

7 thoughts on “Old friends in new places

  1. I had to laugh at “actually being able to hear well enough to find them where they are singing”, but sadly in my case, it’s true. My old ears just don’t hear like they used to and this year the trees seem extra leafy, and with all the rain, the prairie is very tall. One of the things I enjoy about going out birding with a group is that there are always a few young people that hear birds way before the rest of us older folks – and give us a clue in which direction to look. Of course the Vireo is usually no trouble finding!

    • Most of the time I can hear the bird song, but I can’t localize it. Is it high or low, left or right, in front or in back of me? I spin in circles looking up. I’m actually glad no one is with me on these occasions because I probably look pretty silly.

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