Here are the last two For the Birds columns, mostly focused on what readers have been seeing this spring.
If the past season was the Winter of the barred owl, this is the spring of the indigo bunting.
I’ve heard from numerous readers and friends throughout New England and even Canada about this bright blue bird visiting their backyards. The cause for excitement is obvious as it is one of our more colorful birds, flashing a brilliant blue plumage. The brilliance of the blue plumage is dependent upon the light.
It is also nice to hear that so many of these birds are around and delighting backyard birders in large numbers. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are another popular bird this spring. I’ve had limited luck with indigo buntings this spring, but for me, it’s been a banner year for rose-breasted grosbeaks. I’ve seen as many as three males in a tree overhanging my feeders. A female visits the feeders often as well.
It’s also been a good spring for warblers and nearly every walk last week yielded yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, black-and-white warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, American redstarts and yellow-rumped warblers.
The black-and-white warbler is another common warbler in New England. Black-and-white warblers are one of the few warblers often seen on tree trunks. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they have an extra hind claw that helps them cling to trunks. They are also often heard and not spotted, especially when the leaves are fully out in our New England woods. Listen for the high-pitched squeaky wheel song. Some song descriptions are of little help, but this warbler sounds exactly like a squeaky wheel. The black-and-white warbler is not a colorful warbler (obviously) but it’s a striking bird regardless with its striped plumage.
Aside from the yellow warbler, the common yellowthroat is perhaps New England’s most common and widespread warbler. The male is a handsome bird with a thin white “forehead,” thick black face mask and bright yellow throat and underparts. The rest of the body is olive and tan. Females are mostly olive and tan with a yellow throat. The loud “witchety-witchety-witchety” song often accompanies birders on spring and early summer walks. Yellowthroats prefer shrubby habitat and are usually found low in this habitat.
The ovenbird’s “teacher, teacher, teacher” song is often the dominant sound in the New England woods during spring and summer. It is a loud and piercing song, but it is often difficult to find the source. The ovenbird is small (it is a warbler after all) and well-camouflaged bird. It resembles a thrush with its overall brownish plumage and spotted chest but it also has an orange crown flanked by two dark streaks. The ovenbird, which is named for the shape of its ground nest, is often found walking along the forest floor. It will sing from the ground or from a perch in the woods making it that much more difficult to find.
The American redstart is a dynamic-looking little bird with black and orange plumage. While the Baltimore oriole is predominately orange with black and white, the redstart is mostly black with orange markings on its sides, wings and outer tail edges. The redstart, of course, is also much smaller than an oriole. Redstarts are common throughout New England in brushy areas near woods. You’ll probably hear its high-pitched, rather non-musical song before seeing the handsome bird. Females and young redstarts are similarly patterned to males, but gray and yellow instead of black and orange.
I found this guy flitting among the low branches in the woods near my son Andrew’s school lacrosse field last weekend. I had an hour to kill before the game started and, of course, took a little walk in the woods. Towhees and ovenbirds provided the musical backdrop when this guy appeared right in front of me. The chestnut-sided warbler has always been one of my favorites ever since I saw my first one more than 20 years ago in Keene, N.H.
Chestnut-sided warblers breed throughout New England and nearby Canada. They winter in mixed flocks in Central America.
Last week may have been a better week to feature some of our more common warblers, but plenty of these beautiful little birds will be passing through or settling into New England this week as well. Each day this week I’ll feature a warbler or two with short text descriptions and, of course, photos. I’ll kick off Birds of New England’s Warbler Week here with a bonus post highlighting two of the warblers I’ve already posted about this spring.
The yellow warblers are one of the most commonly seen warblers in New England. They start arriving in early May and nest throughout the region. They are most likely to be seen in brushy areas near woods. Their “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet” song is a common song heard throughout spring and summer.
Yellow warblers make a strong case for capitalizing bird names, which is something I go back and forth on. Whenever I capitalize names, however, it is usually the style of the publication for which I am writing to not capitalize and the capitalization is changed anyway. But consider this: Many warblers have yellow featured prominently in their plumage so there are many bird species that may be considered on some level to be yellow warblers. But there is only one Yellow Warbler and the capitalization makes it clear that that’s the bird I’m talking about.
Yellow warblers are all yellow with brown/rusty streaks on its chest and sides.
Blue-winged warblers are also common and widespread throughout New England. Their insect-like song “buzzzz-beee” is another common sound during a spring walk. They also favor shrubby areas near woods. In my estimation, they are one of the more distinctive looking warblers with bright yellow plumage and thick black eye streak.