Burt’s Birds (Nov 2017): Townsend’s Warbler

Burt’s Birds (Nov 2017): Townsend’s Warbler

If you keep a suet feeder, you’ll expect to see a small variety of birds—chickadees, nuthatches, some sparrows, flickers and small woodpeckers—regularly coming to get their share of the food. But every now and then, especially in the winter, you may be delightfully surprised by a beautiful flash of bright yellow mixed with patches of black, and you may take the time to enjoy the rare beauty of a Townsend’s Warbler. They primarily breed in the very tall trees of the coniferous and mixed-coniferous forests of the mountains from Washington through B.C. to Alaska. Like most other warblers, most Townsend’s participate in a long-term migration to the tropics for the winter and do not return until April and May. But a few remain in the coastal lowlands for the winter where we may see them more easily.

Townsend’s are easily distinguished from the relatively common winter warblers, the Yellow-rumped, by their bright yellow triangular head pattern surrounding a dark cheek patch, darker in males than in females; birders-by-ear know them by their simple very-high-pitched song coming down from the canopy of the forest where they primarily feed, almost entirely on insects. They have been described as very chickadee-like: searching actively along twigs and sometimes hovering briefly to take insects from leaves. Pete Dunne says, “Hops, looks quickly left, right, then hops again.”

Their nest is typically built on top of a horizontal conifer branch, by both sexes. Males arrive on the breeding ground in late May and establish their territories. The first eggs, usually 4-5, are laid by late June. The young, fed primarily by the female, leave the nest 8-10 days after hatching. Townsend’s hybridize to a degree with the closely related Hermit Warblers; all these yellow-faced Dendroica warblers are a delight for birders. (by Burt Guttman, photo – Francesco Veronesi)