A wee watch for warblers

What a month for columns! A very strange month indeed.

I had planned to write about crickets (and the one on my hearth) only to discover my selected illustrations are of grasshoppers. Jiminy’ll have to wait.

And never before has the Internet (when I can get there) failed me until I started on the fall dandelion. Still, I learned things I hadn’t known.

Happily, I encountered no problems with the Hooded Warbler.

Well … there is one. I see very few warblers.

I put out bird feeders and enjoy the birds who come to eat. Warblers of course are not in that category. If I want them, I have to go where they are. Yet that isn’t difficult for huge cherry trees sit just beyond my windows and various warblers like to stop there on their way through. The Yellow is the one I see most commonly, perhaps simply because its brilliant color catches the eye.

But the Hooded has visited at least four times, just in August, and generally by itself though I did mark “lots” in 2002. (My notes also include that this is apparently the bird who sings “care if I kiss you” so very early on those August mornings.)

Appropriately named, the male would be yellow head through chest with a greenish tinge (common to many of these birds) on his back except that he was given a stark black hood and bib, all in one. While the hood is obviously distinctive, no other warbler sports a bib either though the Canada looks like it’s trying with a necklace of black dangling jewels. The Hooded also has a large black eye in the midst of all that yellow. Not an eye-ring, but what may be the largest eye size of the 32 warblers analyzed. If you’ve gotten to the yellow and then the hood, you won’t miss the eye.

I mentioned the song. Other references hear different syllables (hey! I’ve always been told I was a romantic! Why not?) but, however you interpret the lyrics, this is a bird you will hear for they positively love to sing. From early (very) morning their carols may persist till lunchtime (ours) and then continue after the other warblers have hung it up in the evening.

They also have an interesting tendency to rapidly spread and close their tail. Then, should you be so lucky, you can catch a glimpse of the white there, otherwise pretty much hidden. I read that this is one of the ways of spotting the bird for, generally, it’s happiest in deep dark forests. I must be very lucky to see as many as I have.

Choosing (like some) to winter in Mexico or the Caribbean, they head back to the northern states during late March into April, ultimately traveling north but not a heck of a lot farther than our area and its latitude. They are definitely an eastern bird with the states east of Texas well-represented though, as they travel north, they tend to flock closer to the Atlantic coast.

Happily, this gorgeous bird seems to be thriving but its future will depend on the health of our forests. Peterson says they’d like 30 to 50 acres. Extensive clearing or burning of undergrowth robs the Hooded of its preferred breeding ground. Forest “fragmentation” (a term new to me) also leads to nest predation (no dense undergrowth for protection) and opens their nests to those nasty (even if attractive) cowbirds and their “parasitism.”

Still, this warbler tends to produce a second brood so, with luck, good weather and wise forest management, we may always have this jewel in our area to admire.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” released in June. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author can be found at Susancrossett.com.