Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Our Winter Warblers

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Everyone knows warblers. They're those small, often brightly colored songbirds with thin beaks that dart around eating insects in the tops of trees and shrubs. Most of our warblers are "neotropical migrants" - they live in North America in spring and summer but migrate south in fall and spend winter in Central and South America. 

 Chestnut-sided Warbler

In Texas we see warblers mainly in the spring, when they drop in here on the way to their breeding grounds further north. On good days in April or May, birders flock to High Island and other southeast Texas sites in hopes of seeing the arrival of twenty or more species of warblers in their bright breeding plumage.

However, you also see warblers migrating through our area in the fall, even as late as November. Just yesterday I spotted a Wilson's Warbler on the CyFair campus.

If you miss fall migration, don't worry! There are three warbler species that are just now arriving in our area and that will stay here for months.
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Pine Warbler


The first and most striking of our three winter warblers is the Pine Warbler.  



Adult Male Pine Warbler
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Pine Warblers are actually year-round residents of our area, although our resident birds are joined in winter by flocks of Pine Warblers coming from further north. They are the warblers that you are most likely to see at your yard feeders, since they are the only warblers that regularly eat seeds as opposed to insects. The males are very easy to identify because they have bright yellow chests with some olive streaking.


They are even easy to ID from underneath.


Adult female Pine Warblers have less yellow, while first year females are very drab indeed.



First Year Female Pine Warbler

The other two warbler species that are present now - the Yellow-rumped Warbler and the Orange-crowned Warbler - migrate here from the north and decide that Texas is a pretty good place to spend the winter.
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Yellow-rumped Warbler

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is less easy to identify than the Pine Warbler because plumage varies considerably from bird to bird. Typically, it is a gray bird with a gray-and-white streaked breast and with yellow patches under the front of its wings. However, some birds are more brown gray and the yellow patches can be very indistinct. So the best ID mark is the one that gives this bird its name: a yellow rump. Yellow-rumped Warblers also frequently make a distinctive "chip" call.



Sometimes, though, even a quick glimpse is enough to make the ID.


Yellow-rumped Warblers typically scurry about in tree tops, darting up like flycatchers every now and then to pluck an insect out of the air. They are able to winter here because there are plenty of bugs around in southeast Texas even in at this time of year.
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Orange-crowned Warbler

The third of our winter warblers is the Orange-crowned Warbler.


Orange-crowned Warbler

This warbler is often the hardest of the three to identify because it is a drab colored bird and its orange crown is rarely visible - unless you happen to catch it bathing!


The best ID feature is the yellow under its tail.


The bird can live here at this time of year because it has been able to adapt its feeding habits. Unlike most warblers, it is an expert at foraging for insects and insect eggs among fallen leaves and in bark crevices.
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7 comments:

Birdwoman said...
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Jeff Mohamed, said...
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Michelle said...
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Jeff said...
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Paul said...

Jeff, there are 4 'deleted' posts here. I can only guess what they might have been. This post of yours is very helpful to me we live near each other. I don't see many warblers here, I suppose,since I'm in a subdivision and you are in a more densely wooded area. But I do see some since I recognize your photos. Thanks for this helpful post!

Jeff said...

Hi, Paul. In fact we live in a subdivision also, and we rarely get warblers except the winter ones. We normally get several species on the LSC-CyFair campus in spring and fall.

Dorothy Borders said...

The only one I have seen in my yard so far is the beautiful Pine Warbler, always a welcome visitor. I'm keeping my eyes wide open for the other two and hope they show up soon.