Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How many different kinds of wood-warblers can I see?

- Annette Bell, Milwaukee, WI

The answer is approximately 52, if you’re talking about regularly-nesting wood-warblers in North America north of Mexico. Another eight non-nesting species often drift into this region, so it’s possible to see approximately 60 wood-warbler species above Mexico.

(Add Central and South America to the USA and Canada to complete the list of all 116 described wood-warbler species that breed in the New World.)

Note that seeing 52 wood-warblers (during one breeding season) would be the Super Bowl of victories for any birder. More realistic is seeing 30 or more wood-warbler species, a total that is not uncommon for the best birders when they’re afield during Prime Time migration in the spring.

I’m no ticker, but I make an exception for the gorgeous wood-warblers. With a tearful apology, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m on my hands and knees with an abacus, declaring the wood-warbler family is the only one for which I’ve ever counted a personal high for species seen in a breeding season: 40 – and, yes, that season’s total included a sighting of the rare Kirtland’s Warbler (often nesting only in Michigan, though some individuals nested in Wisconsin in 2007).

From above, note that the New World is defined as an area encompassing the western hemisphere (including North America). The Old World is the eastern hemisphere, including Europe and Asia. Here, as many as 280 Old World warblers belong in a different family (Sylviidae) than the wood-warblers in the United States and Canada where 51 of the 52 USA/Canadian species are grouped into the Parulidae family. {(The Olive Warbler, a member of the Peucedramidae family, is the only non-Parulidae family member that breeds in the USA (Arizona and New Mexico)}.

Where can you see the greatest number of wood-warblers? In the spring, your best bet is to book a trip to parts of the Appalachian region, New England, Maritime provinces, and several states within the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. Local Audubon chapters are often the best source for free maps, directions, and expert-led field trips focused on finding wood-warblers.

{(Go online and see www., then click on chapters button at the home page to access a state where its chapters are listed with contact information and upcoming field trips. In choosing your birding locale while traveling in North America, keep in mind the ongoing, rising popularity of wood-warbler chasing in spring. If you choose to visit a public natural area that is highly acclaimed and with which you are unfamiliar, it’s often best to visit on a weekday when the crush of binocular toting enthusiasts is likely to be more sane. Otherwise, you’re risking an encounter of overflowing parking lots and creaking boardwalks where the biomass of intrepid birders may provide a more lasting impression than the birds you see.)

Another hidden travel tip for wood-warbler fans is to go online and navigate a Web site where excellent volunteer birding guides are listed worldwide ( By initiating an email correspondence, you’re likely to have more than a guide by your side helping you find wood-warblers. You might also meet a new birding friend. More than a few ongoing friendships for me have begun while meeting birders from afar as we shared the joy of birds on the trail. Local birders are also often aware of the best local checklist to tick off your new bird sightings.

A compendium of checklists for locations throughout the USA and Canada is titled Distribution Checklist of North American Birds (David DeSante and Peter Pyle, Artemesia Press, 1986). Maps that show the density of wood-warbler abundance and their corresponding locations in the USA appear in The Summer Atlas of North American Birds by Sam Droege and Jeff and Amy Price).}


{(You can ask your wood-warbler question by clicking on the "comments" text, then writing your query. To do so, you must either first register for free, (if you don't yet have a Hotmail email account) or post a comment by clicking on the "anonymous" button whereby you can type your name to reveal your identity, if you wish.)}

{(Comment #6 below is a good question and I've answered it in Comment #7 based on my experience watching wood-warblers in WI (my home state) where I began birding in 1976.)}


InFact said...

I'd be lucky to see 20 in a season.

Too much time in 'da office.

Dominik Mosur said...

Looks good.

Anonymous said...

Do warblers eat any foods besides insects/bugs?


Anonymous said...

I just stumbled onto this blog because I googled, but I don't get why I'm not seeing as many warblers as when I was younger. Do you have an answer?

Daniel Edelstein, M.S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I live in Wiscosin. What are some of the more common warblers that I can expect to see?

Daniel Edelstein, M.S. said...

Regarding the above question in the previous comment, I'll mention some of the most common wood-warblers that are typically seen in WI during the spring and summer (far below).

Meanwhile, more precise information for the documented presence of wood-warblers in every WI county is found in the "Atlas of Breeding Birds of WI"
(Noel Cutright, Bettie Harriman, Robert Howe).

Based on my judgment, and without empirical evidence except for my 25+ years of warbler-watching, here's the most common wood-warblers you may detect during the spring and summer in WI (from most common to least in suitable habitat......and not an inclusive list for the state though considered "common" on some published checklists):

- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- American Redstart
- Yellow Warbler
- Palm Warbler (migration only)
- Ovenbird
- Magnolia Warbler
- Black-throated Green Warbler
- Nashville Warbler
- Black and White Warbler
- Wilson's Warbler
- Chestnut-sided Warbler

The least common to see/hear in WI?:

Connecticut Warbler (!) and Kirtland's Warbler (!!!)

Anonymous said...

Well written article.

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