Feathered jewels of the woods

By Larry Cornelis – Sydenham Field Naturalists

It’s with keen excitement that birders anticipate the spring migration of songbirds.

It actually started back around March 1 with the return of robins, red-winged blackbirds and killdeers.

Since then, there has been a steady return of all types of birds (bluebirds, turkey vultures, winter wrens, herons, kinglets, towhees etc).

But the real show kicks in when the warblers return, with the males being all decked out in bright amazing colours and singing their hearts out.

Larry Cornelis Photo

Bright colours arranged in amazing patterns and combinations, so that if you see good quality photographs of these tiny birds, you may question the photo’s authenticity.

Believe me they are real and they delight those that head out birding in the spring to see these wonderful feathered jewels of the woods.

As I write this, it’s April 16 and the first warblers are back.

Yellow-rumped and pine warblers are the first to return of the approximately 30 species that nest here or pass through our area on their way to the boreal forest.

This year, yellow-rumps migrants were observed in late March.

These will be followed by palm, yellow, common yellowthroat and black and white warblers near the end of April.

Then, the first of May, it’s full-on warbler migration time including some of the most beautiful species such as magnolia, Cape May, blackburnian, bay-breasted, cerulean, prothonotary, Canada, black-throated blue and hooded warblers to name a few.

That’s followed at the middle to end of May by a few late migrating species such as blackpoll and mourning warbler.

Eastern North American warblers are well known around the world for their beautiful colours and number of species.

Sometimes you may meet birders from England or some other far away place birding here. Lake Erie shorelines, both American and Canadian sides, are hot spots for songbird migration.

In Ontario, Point Pelee National Park, Pelee Island, Rondeau Provincial Parl and Long Point Provincial Park are birding

Of course, migrating birds can be seen throughout the Southern Ontario landscape including conservation areas such as Peers Wetland and Lorne C. Henderson Conservation Area.

Plus the Lake Huron shoreline is also a well-traveled flyway for migrating birds.

Pinery Provincial Park can be outstanding for bird migration in May.

Warblers are small birds, most weighing only a third of an ounce (eight to nine grams).

The fact that they can migrate thousands of kilometers in a few weeks is a wonder of nature itself.

Larry Cornelis Photo

An amazing example is the fall migration of the blackpoll warbler.

This tiny warbler migrates from the coasts of the maritime provinces and the state of Maine and flies non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean all the way to South America.

It’s said this takes over 70 hours to complete and the birds may lose up to 50% of their body weight.


Warblers are insectivorous eating mostly larvae of moths and butterflies and totally rely on this food source to raise their young.

They may eat some berries in the fall and during winter.

Yellow-rumped warblers in particular are known to eat berries and many overwinter in states such as Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

Larry Cornelis Photo

A few even overwinter in Southern Ontario.

Most warblers are neotropical, meaning they spend the winter in the tropics.

So, grab your binoculars and get outside.

See if you can find some of these beautiful birds in the parks and conservation areas around Wallaceburg.

I have already had yellow-rumped warblers in my own backyard.

For more details, visit: http://www.sydenhamfieldnaturalists.ca/

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