For the Birds Radio Program: Warblers by Canoe

Original Air Date: July 15, 1987

The best birds of the Boundary Waters, at least for Laura, are the warblers.

Duration: 3′24″


(Recording of an Ovenbird)

Last time I talked about some of the birds that you might hear up in the Boundary Waters. Even from a canoe you can note quite a bit of bird life if you open your ears. For me, the biggest thrill of the Boundary Waters area is the abundance of warblers. Warblers frustrate many people–the prettiest ones stay high in the treetops, and even the ones that deign to come lower are hard to spot in dense summer foliage. But many of them can be identified by their voices alone. One of the most common warblers throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota is the Ovenbird. It supposedly says “teacher teacher teacher,” but Midwestern Ovenbirds accent the wrong syllable, saying “tea cher’ tea cher’ tea cher’“

(Recording of an Ovenbird)

In brushy tangles you can hear Common Yellowthroats singing witchity witchity witchity or lookee here! Lookie here! Lookie here!

(Recording of a Common Yellowthroat)

Mourning Warblers also stay low in underbrush. I interpret their song as “Cheese Cheese Cheese for me for me.”

(Recording of a Mourning Warbler)

Nashville Warblers are virtually abundant in second growth nowadays, but they used to be considered very rare. John James Audubon himself only met with three or four in his lifetime. Nashvilles sing a two-part song–“Seebit seebit seebit see wheet wheet wheet wheet wheet.”

Parula Warblers nest in the usnea lichen hanging from old spruce trees. Their song zips upward.

(Recording of a Parula Warbler)

My favorite warbler, the Blackburnian, is spectacular to see. Although the name blackburnian conjures up images of both its flaming orange throat and its intense black and white markings, this bird was actually named for a woman named Anna Blackburn, who collected stuffed birds in the eighteenth century. Since she paid handsomely for them, ornithologists were only too happy to name a pretty bird for her in return. Blackburnian Warblers usually stay way up in the treetops, and even their song doesn’t always help– it’s so high pitched that it’s out of the hearing range of many people.

(Recording of a Blackburnian Warbler)

Black-throated Green Warblers are easy to identify by song–singing “zee zee zoo zoo zee or zee zee zee zoo zee”

(Recording of a Black-throated Green Warbler)

It’s possible to see or hear almost 20 species of warblers on a good summer day in the Boundary Waters. And even if you only learn one or two of their songs, you can amaze your fellow canoeists by calling out a quick identification of a distant song–just one more way birds help us with one-upmanship in our daily lives.

(Recording of an Ovenbird)

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