5 Easy Ways to Identify Warblers

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Warblers migrate to the US in droves throughout May, and are a bellwether of spring. The flash of yellow as they fly by is an exciting occurrence. In North America, we have over 50 species of warblers. The probability that you'll see one is high, but what is the probability that you'll know for sure if it's a warbler?

Knowing what to look and listen for is the key to identifying warblers. Many birders, even seasoned ones, have experienced the joy of seeing a new bird, only to be equally frustrated by the fact that they're not sure what it is.

Bird Identification encompasses five categories:

1. Size
2. Shape
3. Color
4. Sound
5. Behavior and Habitat

Below is an in-depth look at each one.

Size: Warblers are big on sound, but very small, with many smaller than a sparrow.

Shape: Some warblers have the shape of a songbird; short, sometimes plump and often with a short tail.
The majority of warblers have more elongated bodies with the tail extending beyond it. All warblers have pointy, short bills, which aid in their adept picking and plucking of food.

Color: Nearly 70 percent of warblers in North America have yellow markings, ranging from bright yellow to pale yellow shading on different parts of the body. Other common colors include combinations of black and white, dark-to-bluish gray or blue and white.

Sound: Warbler calls fall in two main categories: songs and chirp/trills. Listen for very high-pitched calls, as well as something similar to the squeaky sound of a yellow rubber duck. Warbler calls tend to be very fast, and complex in nature, with a flute-like pure quality. Occasionally, some of their trills will have a buzzing sound in it, either at the beginning or end.

Behavior and Habitat:Warblers have a variety of habitats they flock to, but you can be sure the location is chock full of insects. Some reside in the tree-tops, while others forage on the ground. Others, like the pine warbler, stick to evergreens, while others still are trunk crawlers like a nuthatch.

Many warblers are tail wagers, and often seem nervous as the flit about from tree to tree. Always on the lookout for predators, warblers constantly turn their head and body surveying the area. Mostly found in the eastern US as well as Canada in the summer, most warblers migrate to Central and South America in winter. Warblers are rarely found in the Central Plains, and only a small sampling can be found in West Coast and in West Central region.

© Janet Pace, 2011

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