by Ed Miller
very year, a fresh green Spring moves north in a wave of renewal. A huge cloud of insects moves north with it, feeding, on the new buds and blooms. Warblers ride the wave and follow the cloud, from their winter homes in Central America and the Caribbean, to their nesting grounds in the U. S. and Canada—a journey often 1,000’s of miles.
In our area, you can see about 30 types of Warblers in early spring. About half will be nesting here throughout the summer. The other half, after a brief rest stop, continued north, some traveling almost to the arctic circle.
Warblers are small birds, most being about five inches long. Although they vary in color and pattern, almost all Warblers have yellow on them somewhere. Only a few,
like the the Black-and-White Warbler, and the Black-Throated Blue Warbler,
have no yellow at all.
The Yellow Warbler, the most common type seen locally, is entirely yellow, with red breast stripes and olive yellow wings. In contrast, the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a common migrant transient is blue-black on the back, white on the breast, and has four tiny spots of yellow. The males, who are wearing their mating plumage now, are far more colorful than the females But by the time they move south again in the fall, most males will look quite different.
There are so many different kinds of Warblers, you really need a book to tell them all apart. Still, identification can be about as easy or as complicated as you want to make it. The process can be frustrating, especially at first, but it can also be a very rewarding experience.
Warblers seem to live on insect time, always active, never at rest for more than a moment. This makes spotting and identifying them difficult. But, because their world runs several times faster than our own, and they are almost wholly preoccupied with finding and eating bugs, they are usually too busy to pay much attention to human beings. If you're quiet and patient you can get close to them feeding. With a little discretion, you can get within a few feet.
The sad news about warblers is that every year fewer and fewer are seen. For some species, the decline has been truly frightening over the last decade. The drop in population has been attributed to many different causes, such as loss of nesting habitat, a drop in available food supply, and even the extensive use of pesticides. But the primary cause seems to be the deforestation going on in the Central American countries where these birds spend the winter. Because there seems to be no way to impede the destruction of the rain forests, the future seems grim for these beautiful birds.
If the prospect of enjoying a Warbler appeals to you, I suggest that you make time now, before it's too late, to take a look. Binoculars and a bird-spotting book are helpful, but by no means essential. Pick a nice warm day, sometime after the trees start to bud and take a walk along the river. River Edge Park, or Fred Fuller Park.
Just take a walk It's still Spring, and time to pay attention, because the world has been reborn. You can see flowers, trees, buds, blooms, the river, and your home town. and maybe a few warblers.
Photos of warblers courtesy of well known birder and accomplished photographer Lloyd Spitalnik