Tag Archives: Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped warblers are wild about poison ivy berries

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Photo by Edbo23/Pixabay.com • The yellow-rumped warbler is one of the few warblers that attempts to reside in the region during the winter months. Switching from a diet of insects to one of fruit and seeds helps the birds manage to find enough to eat during the lean months. This species is particularly fond of poison ivy berries.

 

November and December are bleak months for birders as we experience a bit of a letdown after the joys of fall migration. Many of the favorite birds that spend the summer months with us have departed and will not return until spring. Hummingbirds, tanagers, vireos and most warblers, despite a few lingering individuals, have left the scene.

I really feel the pinch since warblers are one of my favorite families of birds. In northeast Tennessee, southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina, there are only three warblers that bird enthusiasts are likely to see in the winter. The yellow-rumped warbler is by far the most common winter warbler, but palm warblers and pine warblers are also occasional winter residents. A few other warblers are occasional stragglers, attempting to eke out a living during the cold months. For instance, I’ve seen a few common yellowthroats during the winter over the years

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Photo by Edbo23/Pixabay.com • During the winter months, a yellow-rumped warbler is a dull bird in mostly brown and gray plumage except for the rump patch of bright yellow feathers that provides the bird its common name.

With the exception of the yellow-rumped warbler, however, the chances of enjoying warblers during the winter are rather slim. At least the yellow-rumped warbler is common and I encounter flocks of these birds on most occasions when I walk woodland trails in the region any time from November to April.

Until 1973, the yellow-rumped warbler was divided by scientists into two distinct species: the myrtle warbler in the eastern United States and Audubon’s warbler in the western United States. During a visit to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2003, I saw my first and only “Audubon’s” warbler. This western counterpart is more colorful than the version birders know so well in the eastern half of the country. In addition to yellow plumage on the rear and flanks, the Audubon’s warbler also boasts a yellow crown and a yellow throat patch. Otherwise, the two birds are remarkably similar in appearance.

Of course, it’s the creamy yellow rump patch — looking like a small pat of butter — that gives this species its common name. Birders have adopted another nickname for the species, often referring to them simply as “butter-butts.”

There is now some discussion in scientific circles of dividing the species into not two distinct species, but four. The other two species would be the black-fronted warbler of mountains in Northern Mexico and Goldman’s warbler, which resides in Guatemala. I wouldn’t mind seeing Audubon’s warbler resurrected as a full species, since it would place an additional species on my life list of birds seen. In addition, it seems fitting that we have at least one bird that honors the name of the famed naturalist and painter John James Audubon.

The scientific name for the yellow-rumped warbler is Setophaga coronata, which are terms derived from ancient Greek that when roughly translated mean “crowned moth-eater.” Like most warblers, the yellow-rumped warbler is fond of insects, but there’s another food source these birds turn to during times of scarcity.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A wintering yellow-rumped warbler clings to palm fronds in coastal South Carolina.

So, how does a warbler make it through the winter season in the region? After all, most warblers exist on a diet heavy on insects and other small invertebrates. The yellow-rumped warbler, however, supplements its diet with different seasonal berries, including juniper berries, Virginia creeper berries and dogwood berries. They also feed on berries from one unlikely source. These birds love to gorge themselves on poison ivy berries that, fortunately, produce no ill effects. I’ve long noticed that many of the trails I enjoy walking during the winter season wind through woodlands overrun by poison ivy. Of course, by eating the berries, the warbler also help spread the noxious vines.

The yellow-rumped warbler is not the only bird known to feed on poison ivy berries. Other birds seen eating these berries include Northern flickers, bobwhites, Eastern phoebes, Cedar waxwings, tufted titmice and American robins. White-tailed deer show a preference for dining on poison ivy leaves over other types of vegetation. The berries are high in fat and calories, which makes them an ideal food source for creatures with high metabolisms like songbirds. The berries also ripen in fall and early winter when many other types of berries are scarce. While it is best for humans to avoid contact with this plant, it is a valuable fall and winter food source for wildlife.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male yellow-rumped in spring plumage looks quite different than his subdued winter appearance.

While the yellow-rumped warbler is quite capable of dealing with some frost and snow, more than half of the world’s warblers live in more tropical climates outside the borders of the United States and Canada. Not all yellow-rumped warbler attempt to tough out winter conditions in the United States. Some do migrate to the tropics, where they utilize a variety of habitats, including mangroves, thorn scrub, pine-oak-fir forests and shade coffee plantations.

All warblers are exclusively New World bird species. The family numbers about 120 species. Some of the descriptively named species of warblers not seen within the United States or its northern neighbor include citrine warbler, white-striped warbler, black-crested warbler, pale-legged warbler, buff-rumped warbler, golden-bellied warbler and black-eared warbler.

During your next woodland stroll, keep your eyes peeled for small brown birds in the branches of nearby trees. If the last thing you see before they dive for cover is a bright yellow rump patch, you’ll know you’ve observed a yellow-rumped warbler.

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Early naturalist and painter John James Audubon painted these yellow-rumped warblers.

 

Increased global effort makes 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count a huge success

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Photo by Bryan Stevens
A pair of White-winged Scoters, back, swim on the Watauga River in Elizabethton with three Greater Scaups.

Last month’s Great Backyard Bird Count certainly merited description as a global affair. Checklists came in from more than 103 countries, including Australia, China, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Iceland, India, Kenya, as well as Canada, the United States and Mexico. Birders fanned out at hot spots around the world to count birds from Friday, Feb. 14 to Monday, Feb. 17.

Participants in the 2013 GBBC tallied more than 40 percent of the world’s bird species, with organizers setting a goal to take that figure to 50 percent this year.

A total of 644 species were found within the United States during the 2014 GBBC. California, Texas and Florida led the count with 364, 349 and 305 species found within those states, respectively.

In Tennessee, a total of 139 species were found during the GBBC. That’s a far cry from the 201 species located by sharp-eyed birders in Georgia, 200 species found in North Carolina, 184 species identified in both Alabama and Mississippi, as well as the 180 species counted in Virginia.

Arkansas eked past Tennessee with 141 species found, but Tennesseans did better than Missouri, where GBBC participants tallied 133 species, and Kentucky, where counters found 128 species.

A total of 2,357 checklists were completed by Tennessee GBBC participants, which provided some extensive coverage across the Volunteer State.

With 100 species, Hamilton County proved the most productive Tennessee county, followed closely by Shelby and Knox, with 98 and 97 species, respectively.

Closer to home, results were less dramatic but still important.

In Unicoi County, nine participants, including myself, found 39 species of birds during the four-day count period. In Carter County, 49 species of birds were found by 14 participants, including myself.

I mostly counted at home during this year’s GBBC, but I did make trips to the pond at Erwin Fishery Park and Roan Mountain State Park to expand my birding territory.

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As checklists poured in from GBBC participants, a few trends became clear from the early stages of this year’s count. For instance, this year lacked any evidence of a “superflight” of irruptive finches.  Last year the GBBC documented such a phenomenon, which was driven by food shortages in Canada. Ten species of irruptive birds (mostly finches) staged a record invasion in areas where they don’t usually show up.

This year lacked huge numbers of White-winged Crossbills, Red Crossbills, Common and Hoary Redpolls, Pine and Evening grosbeaks, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Bohemian Waxwing, birds that were more numerous farther south last year as well.

On the other hand, the 2014 GBBC has confirmed that this has been a great year for spotting Snowy Owls across the United States.

A massive irruption of Snowy Owls into the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states had already been producing headlines for the past several months.

Halfway through the GBBC, with 327 checklists reporting a total of 476 Snowy Owls in 20 states and provinces of the United States and Canada, it was clear that many of the Snowy Owls had found their winter homes to their liking. Last year, 392 owls from eight provinces and 14 states were all that were counted during all four days of the 2013 GBBC.

As an illustration of how the owls have moved, in 2013 Canada had 46 percent of the Snowy Owl reports, but this year that number has dropped to 32 percent. Despite this year’s impressive numbers, these large, white owls can still be hard to find. Many GBBC participants succeeded by checking seashores and lakeshores, farm fields and even cities, where the owls often choose a prominent perch with a good view, such as a utility pole or even the roof of a city building.

In much of North America, people (and birds) have been shivering through bone-chilling blasts of arctic air also called the “polar vortex” phenomenon. The impact of this extended cold on birds has beens most apparent in areas such as the Great Lakes, which are almost completely frozen. Only Lake Ontario has any significant open water now and that has resulted in major movements of waterfowl such as ducks, geese and grebes. The GBBC is capturing these patterns well.

For example, the White-winged Scoter is not usually found inland in February, but has been widely reported from interior locations over the past few days as has the Long-tailed Duck. Both these species showed up in unusual numbers in Northeast Tennessee during late January and throughout February.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens
These two White-winged Scoters spent several days in late January and early February on the Watauga River near Meredith Cabins in Elizabethton.

A pair of White-winged Scoters spent several days on the Watauga River near Meredith Cabins in late January and early February. My mom and I managed to get good looks at the two ducks on Feb. 1. By climbing down a tangled bank, I also managed to get some decent photographs of them.

White-winged Scoters are large, solidly built ducks. Males can weigh three-and-a-half pounds while females can reach a weight of two-and-a-half pounds. Both sexes have the vivid white wing patch that gives the duck its common name.

This duck nests on freshwater lakes and wetlands in the northwestern interior of the United States and Canada.

Other scoters include Surf Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Black Scoter and Common Scoter. Surf and Black Scoters are also occasional visitors to Northeast Tennessee.

A total of 62 White-winged Scoters were found in Tennessee during this year’s GBBC. Three Surf Scoters were also found.

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The scoters are classified with the diving ducks. To learn more about scoters and other diving ducks, here’s a helpful link to a PDF with detailed information about various species, including White-winged Scoter.

http://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_docs/programs/riparianbuffers/FS611.pdf

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According to an update regarding the GBBC posted at birdcount.org, one of the more exciting rare birds reported in this year’s GBBC was spotted across the pond. A Yellow-rumped Warbler has been visiting a feeder in, of all places, central England! This is the first New World warbler ever recorded for the GBBC from the Eastern Hemisphere.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens
This Yellow-rumped Warbler was photographed on Fripp Island, S.C., several years ago.

In northeast Tennessee, the Yellow-rumped Warbler, many years ago known as Myrtle’s Warbler, is a common winter bird. Indeed, it is the only warbler that typically attempts to spend the winter months in the eastern United States.

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