Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Warbler Guy, can you give me a quick way to tell Myrtle from Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler during the winter (non-breeding season)? I see both subspecies of Yellow-rumps where I live in the winter (SF Bay Area), so knowing how to tell Yellow-rumped Warbler subspecies apart would probably be a good idea.

Jay, in San Francisco, there’s two field marks that are excellent, diagnostic clues to help you identify both of these subspecies apart from one another (see drawings, below).

Let's sort out the "winter" plumages here only, given the obvious differences in appearance for breeding season individuals of both subspecies. 

Most (but NOT all) Audubon’s adults during the "winter" wear a faint to solid yellow throat and the Myrtle always possesses a white throat. In all age classes — from hatch year to definitive adults — a Myrtle never shows a white throat. That’s the easy, brief answer.

(Above drawing courtesy of National Geographic.)

But it’s not the full one. That’s because rare to occasional individuals of Audubon's ALSO may express a white throat. Which means it's possible to view a white-throated Yellow-rumped Warbler that could be EITHER the Myrtle or Audubon's subspecies.

So now what do you do for ID?

Use the absence of a faint supercilum (i.e., eyebrow) to identify Audubon’s (see drawing here) during the non-breeding "winter" season. Noticing the lack of this feature on a Yellow-rumped Warbler with a white throat should move you to say: “Bingo, it’s an Audubon’s" (i.e., Audubon's are said to wear a "plain face.)

However, if you see during the non-breeding season both a faint white supercilum mark and a white throat that reaches around toward the middle and mid-back region of the neck area on both sides of the head, then it’s a Myrtle.

In sum, Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler shows a faint white supercilum and a greater amount of white throat surface area than the Audubon’s subspecies that has a more plain face (lacking the white supercilium mark) and a smaller white to, more typically, faint to dark yellow throat.

The definitive source for my judgment in this matter consistently remains the Identification Guide to North American Bird, Part 1, by Peter Pyle (Slate Creek Press), which is the bird bander's guide to identification of birds "in the hand," and features field mark information corresponding to all age classes of songbirds.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff...Joey Tuttle, Vancouver

Anonymous said...

But I wonder if you can tell them apart when they sing.....? I cannot, but Dunne & Garrett in "Warblers" field guide say it's possible, especially with call differences between these two subspecies.


Anonymous said...

Now I know! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I second the motion: I use the call notes when possible to tell them apart.

Gary Rosen

Anonymous said...

Yes, calls are OK for iDing these ones, but I still think plumage is a better idea.......Lyle V., Omaha

Anonymous said...

Nice ......