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Identifying warblers — the next level



Published: Sat, May 1, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

The easy male warblers that I reviewed last week are recognizable by eye and ear to any birder. But going beyond that first level of warbler identification is like taking a graduate course in birding. So here, during birders’ favorite month, are some tips to help you move on to the next level:

Chestnut-sided warblers can be common in overgrown field and forest edges. Olive with black streaks above, chestnut-sided warblers are white below and have a bright, yellow crown and distinctive chestnut sides. Its song, which it sings from elevated perches, is often described as “Please, please, pleased to MEET-cha.”

Look for black-throated blue warblers in both deciduous and mixed woodlands. The white belly contrasts with this bird’s overall dark appearance. The throat and sides are black, and the top of the bird is a very dark blue-gray. Another good field mark is a small white spot on each wing. It’s voice is a course, “Beer, beer, beer, bree.”

Blackburnian warblers prefer coniferous forests and often sing from the tree tops. In good light, this black-and-white bird shows a blaze-orange throat. In fact, some field guides refer to it as the “fire throat.” Its throat is one of the brightest and most-vibrant colors in the bird world. Its song is a very high pitched (inaudible to some) “zip, zip, zip, titi, tseeee.”

Pine warblers prefer pine woods, and their voice is a high-pitched trill reminiscent of a chipping sparrow though the pine warbler’s song is slower. Pine warblers are olive above, have prominent white wing bars and a yellow breast.

Though many warblers have yellow throats, and one is even named the common yellowthroat, it must not be confused with the yellow-throated warbler. Its plain, gray back and bright, yellow throat are excellent field marks as it perches to sing from the tops of sycamores along wooded streams. The song is a series of descending high-pitched whistles.

American redstarts are very active tree-top dwellers in deciduous woodlands. At first, a redstart suggests a miniature Baltimore oriole, but except for a white belly, the body is completely black. Male redstarts’ distinguishing features are bright, orange patches on the wings and tail. As they flit among the tree tops, these flashes of orange are eye-catching. Its song is a series of notes with the final note a bit higher pitched.

Rather drab among a world of brightly colored species, the cerulean warbler is blue-gray above, white below, with a narrow black band across the chest. Look for ceruleans high in deciduous tree tops. Its song is a series of buzzy notes on a single pitch followed by a single higher note.

Another drab warbler of deciduous woods and hillsides, the worm- eating warbler is brown with a buffy chest and black stripes marking a buffy head. Its song is a very simple, insectlike trill.

The prothonotary warb-ler is the only cavity-nesting warbler in the east. It prefers wooded swamps and streams. The prothonotary’s head and chest are a rich, golden yellowish- orange. The upper body and wings are unmarked blue-gray. Its voice is a monotone, “zweet, zweet, zweet, zweet.”

Kentucky warblers skulk in dense undergrowth on deciduous forests and are often difficult to see. When they pop into view, note the yellow throat, chest and belly, olive back and wings, yellow spectacles and black sideburns. Its song is a simple, “chorry, chorry, chorry.”

Another skulker found in wooded swamps and thickets, hooded warblers wear a black hood over a yellow face. A plain, olive back and wings and bright, yellow belly make identification relatively easy. The hooded warbler’s song is a loud, “weeta, weeta, wee-tee-o.”

For help mastering warbler songs and calls, a compilation of 310 songs and calls for 57 species of warblers is available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library, the largest archive of wildlife sounds in the world. Originally released in 1985 as an LP record, “Songs of the Warblers of North America” is the most comprehensive audio guide to warblers available anywhere. The newly digitized version can be used on any device that plays MP3 files and is $14.99 at www.macaulaylibrary.org.

Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or by e-mail via my Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.


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