For the Birds Radio Program: Fall Warblers

Original Air Date: Aug. 22, 1986

Working out fall warblers is tricky but rewarding. 3:10

Audio missing


(Recording of a Yellow-rumped Warbler)

A lot of novices despair at ever mastering fall warblers. You’d think it would be an easy matter: in spring there are probably only half as many warblers as in fall–they usually double their numbers during the breeding season–and the warblers move through Duluth at a more leisurely pace in fall than in spring. But in spring, half of the migrating warblers are boldly-colored adult males, singing constantly to make themselves even more conspicuous. In fall, the dully-colored females and juveniles far outnumber the males, and all of them are much quieter than in spring. A few give themselves away with their call notes. The easiest to hear is the abundant yellow-rumped warbler, which constantly chips something like this:

(Tch. Tch. Tch.)

The only other warbler that chips like that is the Palm Warbler. Both can be very dull-colored in fall, but they are easy to tell apart–the yellow-rump has a bright yellow patch, like a pat of butter, just above the tail. In every plumage, the Palm Warbler has bright yellow just below the tail. And to make it more noticeable, the Palm Warbler has the distinctive habit of wagging its tail as it walks about. The Palm Warbler is seen in a lot of residential neighborhoods on rooftops and on the ground. It’s abundant at Park Point–which is quite possibly the best place for watching fall warblers in the entire states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

To identify warblers, you’ll need a good field guide. Although both the Golden guide, Birds of North America, and the Peterson guide, A Field Guide to the Birds, are very good, my favorite, and the guide most recommended by proficient birders, is the National Geographic Society’s A Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Like its title, it combines the best features of the other two books. You can order it by mail by writing to the National Geographic Society, but, in Duluth, it might be easier to pick it up at Second Edition, the paperback bookstore on the UMD campus.

Even with a good field guide, don’t expect to identify every warbler you see. As Ogden Nash says, “A bird in the open never looks like its picture in the birdy books/ Or if it once did, it has changed its plumage, and plunges you back into ignorant gloomage.” The more you study your book, the quicker you will learn to look at the most important features of each bird to narrow down the possibilities. Although most warblers are not particularly shy around people, they are extremely active. Their flitting is faster than most people can keep track of. All in all, fall warbler watching is a hobby that requires patience and diligence. But few would argue that the sight of a male warbler in adult plumage is certainly a handsome reward.

(Recording of a Yellow-rumped Warbler)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”