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Spring Warbler Migration

May is the best time for seeing some of North America's most beautiful birds, the warblers. At this time of year, these tiny, brightly colored, insect-eating birds begin to return to their North American breeding grounds from Central and South America where they spend the winter. Their journeys may involve non-stop flights covering more than a thousand miles at a time, so when they finally touch down they have expended much of their energy and must feed constantly to refuel. Warblers fly in flocks—sometimes called "waves"—of several species, and their arrival creates a spectacle of brilliant colors. In addition, many male warblers sing high-pitched songs during migration, making them even more conspicuous. So grab your binoculars and your Stokes Field Guide to Birds and go out and enjoy the show!

On a particularly successful day, when a good "warbler wave" has arrived, if you are lucky and in the right place, you can see over 15 different kinds of warblers. Flamboyantly colored in their breeding plumage, many are often easy to identify.

Here is an introduction to 6 fairly common warblers.

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Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler. Our only all-yellow warbler, gives its sweet song from shrubby areas, usually near water. It is the most common and widespread nesting warbler in North America, building its nest just a 3-12 feet off the ground in a shrub or small tree.

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Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat. Nests across much of North America in thickets, marshes, or brushy areas. They can be a little difficult to see as they skulk through underbrush. The male has a little black mask, making him look like a bandit or a raccoon.

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Black-and-white Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler. Acts like a nuthatch as it climbs around tree trunks. It is one of the earliest migrating warblers.

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Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warbler. Passes through our area on its way to northern spruce-fir forests, where it spends the summer. It hunts for insects anywhere from near the ground to the tops of trees.

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Black-throated Green
Black-throated Green Warbler. As suggested by its name, the male has a black throat. Also has a yellow face. Best discovered by hearing its "zee zee zee zoo zee" song as it pauses on migration to its northern breeding grounds.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler. With a distinctive lemon-yellow patch above the tail and on it's side, this is one of our most numerous warblers in migration. Its migration is short, since it winters in much of the southern U.S. This species feeds high in trees.

Where to See Warblers
Look for warblers in isolated areas of trees, especially in green spaces within cities or at the northern edge of large bodies of water. Such places attract warblers like an oasis in a vast desert, since budding trees harbor swarms of insects, which they eat. To find the best warbler-watching spot near you, contact your local Audubon Society or bird club. A few of the most popular places to see a diversity of migrating warblers are:
triangle picture Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts
triangle picture Cape May, New Jersey
triangle picture Point Pelee, Ontario
triangle picture High Island, Texas
triangle picture Dauphin Island, Alabama
triangle picture Central Park in New York City

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