Yellow warblers are a sunshine-bright New World warbler. They frequent willow and cottonwood thickets near streams, swamps, and marshes.
On a recent Sunday I was on the trails of the Horicon Marsh (Wisconsin) at dawn, following the warbler’s subtle seet calls, hopeful to set eyes on this cheerful songbird.
A widespread bird, at this time of year Setophaga petechia are busy breeding in almost all of North America. They winter in Central America and parts of South America, and migrate to North America in warm months.
See migration map below.
Their diet consists mainly of insects–moths, spiders, mosquitoes, mayflies, etc.
In the marshy thickets they prefer, they are busy snagging mosquitoes, and hovering underneath leaves foraging among spider webs.
In spite of their glaring bright color, these small birds (about five inches [12.7 cm] long) can be difficult to spot, due to their quick, flitting behavior, and surrounding thick foliage.
With 35 subspecies, some species have a slightly different physical appearance depending on the male in breeding. The name consequently changes too. The yellow warbler in Belize for instance, pictured here, is known there as the mangrove warbler.
More warbler info here.
While walking, I was alerted to the high-pitched chip (“seet”) sound. I stayed focused on this sound, ignoring whining mosquitoes (best I could) and other flutey bird song.
There’s a mnemonic phrase that birders memorize for this warbler, and I heard it in the swampy woods. It sounds (sort of) like the bird is saying, “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.”
And they are so sweet…so I continued down the trail getting closer to the song.
Then she fluttered into my periphery and disappeared; appeared again, and vanished. I knew I was close, so I stood back a few feet and waited.
This time she perched on a nearby branch, looked around. I noticed she wasn’t hunting. Parents usually exhibit this behavior to make sure a predator isn’t watching. Then she disappeared into an inconspicuous nest.
I was so excited to have spotted her nest, watched intently. In this quiet little patch of forest, hidden in a tiny, neat cup of dried grass, warbler eggs were being carefully protected.
Two days later I was in the airport waiting for my delayed flight, surrounded by the noise, chaos, and crowds that is air travel in the summertime.
I sat thinking about the yellow warbler…that sweet and quiet yellow warbler mother, and her heroic and successful efforts to keep her brood safe.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander