Singing Warblers in the Valley

April 19th, 10 am.

Spring is in full swing and the days are longer and maybe a little bit warmer too. It is such a delight to head out to the oak woodland in the south end of the valley. The sun is streaming in through the just barely breaking bud branches of the great valley oaks, making it look like a cathedral. It feels quiet yet my ears are on overload with the songs of many different birds. Thinking of what it must be like to be so full of life, to sing from perch to perch. Singing for joy, for love, for place. Well, actually scientists believe that the singing marks territory, attracts mates, communicates danger and of course I have seen evidence of this. When I take a sunrise hike these mornings and hear such a cacophony of songs, every bird seemingly singing their hearts out, it just seems there are other reasons for the singing beyond what we can test for.

Here in this oak woodland cathedral, the songs are haunting and beautiful. The hard part is finding these singers because they are small and constantly active. Flitting from branch to branch, wood warblers have been called “the butterflies of the bird world”. They sing while looking for food or trying to attract a partner.  Not the most melodious of singers, their songs tend to be high-pitched reedy tunes. The latest information says that the ones who like to be in the tops of trees have higher pitched songs while the ones who reside in the lower shrubs and trees have lower pitched songs.  Wood warblers are only found in the Western Hemisphere, specifically in the Americas. All warblers are migratory, though the Yellow-rumped warbler does not go to the tropics and is the most common warbler seen here in the winter months. Warblers feed mainly on insects gleaning aphids, beetles, grasshoppers, gnats, and many other insects from tree trunks, branches, and leaves. They play an important part of the forest ecosystem.. 

A song that is common in the early spring is the Yellow- rumped warbler, Dendroica, coronata, song. Here is a link for you to watch and listen to: You can pick this one out of my photos because it has a bright yellow rump. The bright trademark gives it its common name, “butter butt”. The ones I see in this forest have changed from their somewhat drab winter plumage to the breeding plumage,  beautiful combinations of yellow, black, and white. This warbler has the digestive capability to eat more waxy berries, such as poison oak, wax myrtle, and mistletoe, than other warblers which is why we see them here in the winter. 

The next warbler I hear is the Wilson’s warbler, Wilsonia pulsilla. This bright yellow bird with a dark black round cap on top of its head, arrives early from Mexico and Central America. This is one of the deeper toned warblers that tends to reside in the lower sections of trees and in shrubs. This does not mean you will never see it up in a tree, as this was one that I saw high above my head! The song it sings is a series of chipping sounds. This warbler prefers riparian areas where there are willows and alders and since our valley has many creeks running through it, I see them all over, including in this Oak woodland. 

The third but definitely not the only other warbler I encountered today is the Black-throated gray warbler, Dendroica nigrescens. This black and white warbler with a small yellow spot by its eye is a common song in our mixed woodlands. It has a short migratory path compared to most warblers because it only flies to Mexico and breeds on the Pacific coast and in the southwest. It has a buzzy song that it repeats over and over. This makes it one of the easier songs to learn though it has other versions it can sing to fool you! 

This spring chorus has me singing a tune myself as I head back to my car.