- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Several kinds of warblers, which are small, colorful birds that winter in Central and South America, nest in forests and woody thickets in North America, including in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Often called “feathered jewels,” many kinds of these lively little birds migrate through here early in May, and some species stay here to raise young.
All species of warblers eat invertebrates during the warmer months and feed the same to their offspring.
All warblers are small, and most of them are difficult to see. Use field guides or get online to see the beautiful colors and patterns that identify each species.
I have fond memories of seven kinds of favorite warblers that I particularly enjoy in southeastern Pennsylvania. Each species has at least one characteristic that makes it interesting.
Palm warblers migrate through here early in April, which is before most warblers do. They inhabit woodland swamps where they walk, while pumping their tails, along edges of shallow puddles on leafy forest floors to get invertebrates.
This attractive species is brown on top, which camouflages it, and yellow below with a rusty cap.
Yellow warblers are yellow all over, making them striking among the leaves of willow trees and bushes, where they nest by ponds and streams. Each male yellow warbler sings lively ditties that attract a female to him in his nesting territory.
Common yellowthroat warblers are olive brown on top and yellow below. Each male also has a black mask over his eyes. He sings “witchety, witchety, witchety” to attract a mate to his nesting territory among shrubbery near ponds and small waterways.
Blue-winged warblers hatch young in rows of multiflora rose bushes between fields. This species is olive above and yellow underneath and has a little light blue on each wing. Males emit an interesting, buzzy song that sounds like an elf inhaling and exhaling, “beeee-buzzzz.”
Louisiana waterthrushes “dance and bob” as they walk along woodland streams in search of aquatic invertebrates. Those extra motions resemble debris bouncing in the current of the stream, which is a form of camouflage.
Waterthrushes rear offspring in leaf-lined notches behind tree roots in stream banks.
Ovenbirds walk on dead-leaf forest floors to get invertebrates for themselves and their young. Brown above and white with rows of dark spots below, ovenbirds blend into leaf-carpeted forest floors.
The usually invisible males ring out “teacher, teacher, teacher” to attract females to them for raising youngsters on woodland floors.
Little flocks of yellow-rumped warblers winter in southeastern Pennsylvania and through much of the eastern United States. They resemble sparrows to some extent, except they are slimmer and have thin beaks and a yellow rump.
During winter, they mostly ingest berries, the reason they can winter in the north.
These are a few of my favorite warblers. Their relatives, and all life, have something of interest as well.
Life on Earth is quite intriguing, more than anything else.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.