Let Warbler Mania Get You

What is a warbler? To some, it may be someone who doesn’t know when to stop talking, but if you’re a birder, it is a group of small, beautiful birds that you look forward to seeing each spring. They are often referred to as the butterflies of the bird world but to me they are pure pleasure.

Why is this group of birds so enjoyed by birders? Not only are they beautiful, but they are also less common and often challenging to find and identify. During the few weeks that most of the 37 species that occur in Missouri pass through our woodlands, they liven up the trees with colors and sounds that are as unique to spring as daffodils and tulips.

The first “group” to arrive each year are the Yellow-rumped (butter-butts was our college term) and Orange-crowned Warblers. These early arrivers start showing up in March and are merely a tease of what is to come. The Orange-crowned is one of “least showy” of the warblers and the Yellow-rumps will not be showing their breeding colors for another month.

Soon in early April you may find the “nuthatch-acting” Black-and-white Warbler clinging to a tree trunk or a Northern Parula buzzing from high in a sycamore. Now we are getting into the colorful season. Warblers, like other neo-tropical migrants, time their spring migration with insect availability. As our trees begin to bud out, insects attack the new lush growth. After an all night flight, these tiny birds hit the trees at sunrise looking for bugs. Would our trees even have a chance to produce leaves if not for our tiny feathered Orkin Men?

Southern winds during the month of April can bring in new birds each night. Tennessee, Nashville and Yellow Warblers become quite common late in the month, but it is the first two weeks of May that birders really look forward to each year. A good day of bird watching in a prime location like Weston Bend State Park, can easily yield 10 to 20 different species. Among my favorites I look forward to seeing are Magnolia, Golden-winged, Cerulean and Mourning Warblers, but it just isn’t spring until I have seen a Blackburnian Warbler. One look and you’ll know why a friend of mine used to call them “ol’ fire throats”.

By mid May, things are starting to wind down, yet warblers are still coming through. In fact it is the best time to see such beauties as the Canada, Blackpoll and highly secretive Connecticut Warblers.

I once read that warblers stay in one place long enough for you to say “Hey, isn’t that a…, oh shoot”. They do move around a lot but the reward is worth the effort. To learn more about warblers check out the events page for opportunities this spring!

By Mark McKellar

SPRING 2005