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Fall Warbler Migration
In fall, look for migrating warblers in parks, suburban areas, and along coasts, lakes, and river valleys.
What is a warbler?
North American warblers are small songbirds, generally quite colorful and with fine pointed bills; most eat only insects, but a few supplement their diets with berries and seeds. Recent DNA studies show that blackbirds and orioles are their closest relatives.
In all, 57 species of wood warblers breed in North America. Most have the word "warbler" in their name, but a few do not: the waterthrushes, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, yellowthroats, redstarts, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
Warblers are "Neotropical migrants", birds that winter in the tropics and summer in North America.
Where do warblers go?
With a few exceptions, the warblers that summer in the United States and Canada migrate south to Central and South America. They must do so because they are so dependent on insects, which are not available during northern winters.
Long-distance migrants: Some warblers, such as the Blackpoll Warbler, breed mainly in Canada and Alaska but winter as far south as Brazil. Such highly migratory warblers may make nonstop flights of 2,500 miles from the southern United States to the northern coast of South America.
Short-distance migrants: Some warblers spend the winter in the United States. Among these is the Yellow-rumped Warbler, which is fairly common in winter. This species can survive by eating berries and seeds. The Pine Warbler is another short-distance migrant which may even come to your suet feeder for a meal.
When warbler-watching, what will I see?
In general, the most abundant species you will see in the fall is the Yellow-rumped Warbler. It is streaked dull brown overall with a bright yellow patch on its rump. It actively forages among bushes, tall weeds, or trees.
The warblers you see must feed constantly to fatten up for their long flights south, so they may stay in a food-rich area for days at a time.
Also, warblers migrate at night; if you stand outside and listen carefully, you may hear their soft "chip" notes as they fly overhead. On a moonlit night, early in the evening, try looking at the moon through your binoculars and you might see the silhouettes of passing warblers.