Monday, September 27, 2010

Warbler Guy, do the white tail spots in the Hooded Warbler (and other warbler species) provide it any benefit?

Catrina (in Portland, OR), the answer is “yes,” if you agree with studies conducted by Dr. Ron Mumme. In the field, he tested his hypothesis that the Hooded Warbler’s (above photo courtesy of Dr. Mumme) contrasting white tail spots and tail-flicking behavior increase foraging performance by startling potential insect prey that the warblers then pursue and capture in flight.

Results of his experiment indicated that Hooded Warbler individuals with darkened tails had significantly lower prey attack rates and delivered significantly less food to nestlings than did birds with normal, unchanged tail feathers. He and other theorists continue to test their theory about the importance of contrasting tail pattern in helping birds capture prey, and, in doing so, note that all 12 species in the Myioborus redstarts (also known as whitestarts) display similar behavior while using their white outer tail feathers to also conduct foraging displays designed to startle and flush potential insect prey.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Warbler Guy, which warblers are superspecies?

That’s a fine question, Jeremy (in Boise, ID).

Given a superspecies consists of two or more species that evolved recently into isolated breeding ranges next to each other, it is not surprising that superspecies’ members are closely related.

Among songbirds, think of Eastern and Western Meadowlarks. Their breeding ranges are separated across North America and are nearly isolated except for a small overlap area. The same kind of breeding isolation geography pattern occurs in more than 100 North American species that are considered members of 53 total superspecies.

Of these 53, some wood-warbler species qualify. Note the distinct breeding ranges of the Black-throated Green superspecies consisting of this species along with Black-throated Gray, Hermit, Townsend’s, and Golden-cheeked Warbler.

Other warbler superspecies include 1) Nashville, Virginia’s, and Colima; 2) Northern and Tropical Parula; 3) Yellow-throated and Grace’s; and 4) Mourning and MacGillivray’s.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Given, I saw your 9/2/10 article here, what warbler identification resources exist?

Eddy in Chicago.......That's a good question.

Violating my own anti-shill policy, I'll suggest my own "Warbler Tips ID" chart (that is accessed at my web site's home page:

This chart has a column that lists the look-alike species, in addition to mentioning 1) whether they are early to late spring arrivals/autumn departures during migration; 2) their conservation status; 3) other information.

The direct link to this warbler identification resource:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Confusing Fall Warblers? Warbler Identification Tips?

People often ask me to share the best ways to identify migrating warblers — especially in the East and Midwest where post-breeding plumages can sometimes create identification challenges.

My brief answer is that there’s no replacement for doing your homework in the field. Getting out early and often with your binoculars is the best way to see lots of warblers. The more challenging identification episodes you encounter, the faster you become precise with your warbler field skills.

One identification resource I recently found may interest you. It’s an online “chart” that’s found at:

The author, Marcel Gahbauer, does a terrific job of separating 30 species of warblers by various key feather field marks: a) presence of wingbars or not; and b) facial, throat, and undertail characteristics.

Enjoy your late summer and autumn birding!