For the Birds Radio Program: National Warbler Awareness Week: My Favorite Warbler

Original Air Date: June 2, 1989

Today Laura Erickson talks about her favorite warbler of all–all 37 species.

Audio missing


My Favorite Warbler

(Recording of a Blackburnian Warbler)

Much of the Northland was socked in with fog two weeks ago, followed by a cold front in the early hours of May 20, and the warbler migration that Saturday morning was the most spectacular I’ve ever enjoyed in Duluth. The early sun caught the golden crown of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, his exotic black eye markings set off his white cheek, streaked back and wings, and chestnut sides to perfection, and I thought, “This surely is my favorite warbler.” Even fall immature Chestnut-sides are lovely, with their tropical golden-greenish back and wings, their snow-white underparts, and their white eye ring. The Chestnut-side is one I often enjoy on walks through Port Wing—yes, definitely my favorite warbler.

But then a sudden movement caught my eye, and I turned to face a male Magnolia Warbler—a perfect bird, with bold yellow and black markings and an animated way of fanning his black tail to show off big white tail patches. Seeing this migrant at close range in strong open sunlight brought to mind other Magnolias I’ve seen in their homes in northern spruce woods, glowing in the soft filtered sunlight of deep forest, and I realized that this was my favorite warbler.

The cheery song of an Ovenbird carried my thoughts from the Magnolia Warbler to another time and place, when a very urban high school girl walked through the Chicago Loop on her way to the library. She chanced to look down at a tiny dead bird lying on the dirty sidewalk. It was a soft brown bird, with a white underside streaked with black, a white eye ring, and a lovely soft orange crown. Its eyes were closed, and its pink feet curled. She didn’t know what it could be, nor did she have the foggiest notion how she could ever find out. She wondered how it ever found its way to downtown Chicago, and what killed it. She didn’t know what else to do with it, so she went into a McDonalds, took a couple of napkins to wrap it in, and laid it gently on the top of the trash in a garbage can. Years later when my husband gave me my first field guide, the very page I opened to showed me what that little bird was, and sparked my life’s passion for birds. Yes—the Ovenbird—my favorite warbler of all.

Then, of course, a sunbeam caught the glow of a Blackburnian Warbler’s golden throat, and I knew that this was my real favorite. An animated little redstart whizzed by—this was a warbler I studied intimately back when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and my memories of other redstarts jolted my realization that of all the warblers, this was my favorite. I made my way to the Park Point bathhouse, where an elegant Black-throated Blue Warbler darted about right on the sidewalk and walls and roof of the building, his matchless beauty proof that he was really my favorite warbler. A passing Palm Warbler wagged his tail at me, and I remembered how I love the way Palms sit on the wall at the Lakewood Pumping Station when I’m counting birds each fall—surely my favorite warblers. But then I saw a Bay-breast, a Cape May, a lovely female Mourning, and an elegant Canada Warbler, and heard the sweet, sleepy song of a Black-throated Green Warbler, the sweet two-parted song of a Nashville, and saw an animated yellowthroat looking back at me through his black mask—each one for a moment was my favorite.

The next day in Port Wing I watched a Northern Parula sing his zippy song, and called a sweet Pine Warbler right down almost close enough to touch.

And I realized the truth. Just as each one of my children is my favorite—irreplaceable and uniquely special—so too is each warbler my favorite. So when you hear me say, “That’s my favorite warbler,” you will know that I’m speaking the absolute truth.

(Recording of a Blackburnian Warbler)

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