For the Birds Radio Program: Warblers

Original Air Date: May 20, 1987

Laura talks about three of the easiest warblers to hear.

Audio missing

Transcript

Common Yellowthroat

(Recording of a Common Yellowthroat)

If you’re near a cattail marsh or a field with dense shrubbery, you’re likely to hear the witchity witchity witchity song of the Common Yellowthroat. This warbler’s voice is much bigger than its body.

(Recording of a Common Yellowthroat)

You have to be patient to actually see a Yellowthroat–it’s an expert at hiding in dense vegetation. But your patience will be rewarded if you get a look–the male wears a black face mask like a bandit’s, has a plain greenish-brown back, and golden yellow underparts. Yellowthroats are common breeders over most of the United States and southern Canada, but many people don’t know they exist, unconsciously filtering out bird songs unless the singer is right in view.

Another abundant warbler in the Northland is the American Restart. Males are mostly black with bright orange markings on the wings and tail. Like the yellowthroat, redstarts are tiny. They’re the most animated of the warblers, flitting about from branch to branch to catch flying insects, and so you have to work to get a good look. Redstarts sing several different songs, some very similar to the songs of other species, so if you want to learn warblers really well, you’d be wise to pay attention whenever you hear an American Redstart singing.

(Recording of an American Redstart)

One warbler which is much more often heard than seen is the Ovenbird. Its “teacher teacher teacher” song rings through just about every tract of woods in the Northland.

(Recording of an Ovenbird)

The Ovenbird is handsome, even if its’s not as colorful as the Yellowthroat or the Redstart–its white underside is heavily spotted with black, its back is brown, and it has a white eye ring and an orange crown bordered with black. Its song is ventriloqual, so even though it usually sings at about eye-level and spends a great deal of time walking on the forest floor, it’s extremely difficult to see.

(Recording of an Ovenbird)

Minnesota and Wisconsin woods are ringing with the songs of warblers now. Most warblers sing all the way through their migration, and so birders are more likely to notice males than females–which is lucky for beginners because males are much more brightly colored and easy to identify. They migrate in flocks with kinglets and vireos in spring–the more eyes the better for spotting predators. But even though migrating males aren’t on territory yet, they are stressed by hearing their own species’ songs, so a warbler flock often consists of one each of several different species.

Look for warblers along waterways, where insects are abundant and the shoreline provides them with a landmark. Rivers throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota are all good for warblers. In Duluth I’ve had my best luck at Park Point near the recreation center, in Chester Bowl, and all along the Western Waterfront Trail. In Wisconsin, Lake Superior’s entire South Shore is rich in warblers, especially at Wisconsin Point. Once you discover warblers, a whole new dimension of Northland riches will be opened for you.

(Recording of an Ovenbird)

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