For the Birds: Warbler season already

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pine warbler visits a backyard in New England, April 2020, Merganser Lake.

Another quick, one-day break from the A Day on Merganser Lake photo series to bring you the latest For the Birds column …

Could it be warbler season already?

It sure is and I’m just as surprised as the next person. Not that the first week of April is unusual for the early warblers to arrive; it’s right on time.

Still, I was surprised when I looked up and saw a pine warbler perched at the top of my bird-feeder pole system the other day. I wasn’t ready for it. In a normal year, I’d be counting down the days until the first warblers arrived. But this is no normal year. I think we can all agree on that.

Like many others, I’m sure, I’ve been consumed with COVID-19, or coronavirus. It’s on the news 24/7. Grocery stores have one-way aisles, most people are wearing masks and the cashiers are wearing face shields. My work (thankfully I am still working) is busier than ever due to the virus and the days start earlier and end later than ever.

No sports. No concerts. No parties. Heck, no talking to your neighbor. I never thought I’d see a time like this.

I had no idea what day it was and probably would have needed two guesses to tell you what month it was.

Then I saw the pine warbler. Oh, must be early April. And I’m pretty sure it’s a Wednesday. Leave it to birds to add a little clarity to this whole mess.

So, yes, it is warbler season. Later on that Wednesday, the lone male pine warbler was joined on my deck by a female pine warbler (a drabber version of the bright yellow male.) Then, hours later, another male showed up. They all tolerated each other as they chowed down on the expensive mealworms I had bought for the bluebirds. The warblers were more than welcome to them.

Pine warblers are one of the few warblers that regularly visit bird feeders, and I use the term “regularly” loosely. The last time I had seen pine warblers at my feeder was four years ago. I’ve never had any other kind of warbler at my feeders, but I understand yellow-rumped warblers will sometimes visit suet feeders. An Internet search for “warbler at feeder” will turn up photos of random warblers on a suet cake, but that is definitely the exception, not the rule.

Warblers are small, usually colorful, migratory songbirds that are the highlight of the spring birding season. There are dozens of varieties and most of them arrive in New England after the trees have leafed out so learning their songs is worth the effort.

Pine warblers are typically the first warblers to arrive in New England, followed closely by palm warblers. Then, slowly and steadily, more and more show up until the warbler season peaks in early to mid-May. It is arguably the “birdy-est” time of the year.

So we have that to look forward to and to keep our heads on straight. When this cray time in our history gets to be too much, just look to the birds. They’ll make things right again.

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