Tag Archives: warbler of the week

Blackpoll Warbler: an impressive sprinter

Male Blackpoll Warbler © Kenneth Cole Schneider

“Its activity is pleasing, but its notes have no title to be called a song. They are shrill, and resemble the noise made by striking two small pebbles together, more than any other sound that I know.” – John James Audubon, Birds of America

The Blackpoll Warbler is a very common migrant in Massachusetts, and it is often located by its high-frequency song as it passes through the state. The sound is so high that many birders claim that being unable to hear the Blackpoll Warbler’s song is one of the first signs of hearing loss. From June through August, however, there are precious few places in the Commonwealth where even observers with the keenest hearing can hope to hear a Blackpoll Warbler sing. Given that we are on the extreme southern edge of this species’ breeding range, it is not surprising that breeding pairs of this subalpine specialist are few and far between in the Bay State. Mount Greylock is most likely place to see a breeding Blackpoll Warbler in Massachusetts.

Did You Know?

During migration the Blackpoll Warbler—weighing in at just 12 grams (lighter than a soda can)—flies for three straight days over the Atlantic Ocean before stopping in Colombia or Venezuela. In addition, Blackpoll Warblers that breed on the northwest coast of the U.S. first fly across the continent to join up with their eastern counterparts before flying south. This is one of the most impressive migrations of any animal.

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Audubon’s “Extra Warbler”

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler © Mark Peck

“This is a real wood warbler. It loves the woods.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

The Black-throated Blue Warbler has a relatively small breeding range that extends from Nova Scotia westward to Lake Superior. Some of these warblers breed in suitable habitat as far south as Georgia, but almost all “suitable habitat” south of Pennsylvania exists only in the Appalachian Mountains. Black-throated Blue Warblers reside primarily in mature hardwood forests, where they make their nests in dense understory growth, particularly where mountain laurel abounds. Predictably, this species suffered a significant decline in Massachusetts when much of the old-growth forest was cut down to make way for agriculture.

Black-throated Blue Warbler range map © Birds of North America

Trend in Massachusetts

The Black-throated Blue Warbler is increasing in MA and expanding their range eastward in the state.

Did You Know?

The male and female Black-throated Blue Warbler look so different from one another that they were originally thought to be two separate species. The female Black-throated Blue Warbler is also know as John James Audubon‘s “extra warbler” because he painted a separate plate for his Elephant Folio of the Birds of North America of what he thought was a “Pine Swamp Warbler” but was actually a female Black-throated Blue.

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler © Kenneth Cole Schneider

Meet “Fire-throat”

Blackburnian Warbler (male) © Kevin Bolton

“When the low morning sun shines full upon its gorgeous frontlet, backed by the dark recesses of the pines, it flashes out like a burning flame as the bird turns its breast suddenly to the light.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

The fiery throat, face, and breast of the breeding Blackburnian Warbler set it apart from its fellows. A boreal forest warbler, most of the species’ breeding range lies in northern New England and eastern Canada. Although Blackburnian Warblers require fairly substantial areas of intact mature forest, they will tolerate some “edge” in that habitat, and have managed to keep their fires burning brightly throughout the past few centuries in Massachusetts.

Trend in Massachusetts

Increasing west of the Worcester Plateau.

Did you know?

The Blackburnian Warbler is the only North American warbler with an orange throat.


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Meet “Maggie”

Male Magnolia Warbler © Laura Gooch

“The Magnolia Warbler is to my mind the most strikingly beautiful warbler that makes its home in New England. The Blackburnian with its orange front may be preferred by many, but that bright front is its chief glory, while the Magnolia Warbler’s beauties are distributed to every part of its graceful little form.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

A favorite of early 20th century master birder, Edward Howe Forbush, the striking and distinctive Magnolia Warbler (sometimes called “Maggie” by birders) is an iconic breeding species of young coniferous woods. Indeed, this species breeds almost exclusively in boreal conifer forests dominated by spruce, fir, hemlock, and cedar. This might prompt one to wonder why the bird is named for a distinctively southern plant family. Alexander Wilson, the man responsible for many common names of North American birds, is the person behind this name. Magnolia Warbler is so called because this conifer-loving species was christened after Wilson first collected a migrant individual in a magnolia tree in Mississippi in 1810.

Trend in Massachusetts

According to our second Breeding Bird Atlas, Magnolia Warbler has made steady gains in the central/west part of the state.

Did you know?

Magnolia Warblers often spend their winters on shade coffee farms. Shade coffee farms are important habitat for many birds—a discovery which spurred the creation of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly certification. The next time you buy coffee, look for “Bird Friendly®” on the package. One popular brand is Birds & Beans, which can be found at some Whole Foods Market locations, our Mass Audubon shop, and a few other places. Search for a retailer who carries it near you here. We’ll be serving Birds & Beans coffee at the Birders Meeting.

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Male Magnolia Warbler singing © Victor Fazio

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Have You Seen a Pine Warbler?

Pine Warbler © Andy Morffew

“The Pine Warbler is the gentle, modest minstrel of the pines…Its sweet monotonous song harmonizes well with the sighing of the summer wind through the branches, while shimmering heat-waves rise from the sandy soil.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

As its name suggests, the Pine Warbler typically shuns deciduous woods or high-altitude stands of spruce and fir. Rather, it goes where the pines are, and pre-Colombian Massachusetts certainly had plenty of pines. Tall White Pines, intermixed with resinous Red Pines, covered large portions of the state. Gnarled but venerable Pitch Pines dominated the sandy forests of Cape Cod and the Islands. Of course, after the arrival of colonists, homes and farms sprang up as the trees went down. Even as acres upon acres of pine forest disappeared across the state, Pine Warblers persisted for many years on Cape Cod.

Trend in Massachusetts

The Pine Warbler has had extraordinary success in Massachusetts since our first Breeding Bird Atlas in the late 1970s. Pine Warblers persisted on the Cape and significantly increased in almost all of the rest of the state. The Breeding Bird Survey also indicates an increasing population of this short-distance migrant.

Pine Warbler change in presence between Breeding Bird Atlas 1 and Atlas 2.

Did You Know?

Pine Warblers are one of two warbler species that regularly stick around in Massachusetts in the winter. They can often be seen at suet feeders, so keep an eye out!

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Did You Know? The Ovenbird is a Warbler!

Ovenbird ©John Harrison

 “Among them all, the most common and conspicuous was the Oven-bird. Its staccato song with its crescendo ending rang through the woods, seemingly the loudest of them all, and when I saw the pretty bird walking with its alert air along a log, putting its little head forward at each dainty step in a manner of a diminutive chicken, I was utterly captivated.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Though it looks and sometimes acts like a spotted thrush, the Ovenbird is a warbler. Its loud and oft-repeated call is a familiar backdrop in the spring woods, and, where many males all sing in close proximity, the din can be impressive. Like other birds of mature mixed forest, Ovenbirds were likely plentiful in the time before European ships landed on the shores of the “New World.”

As the forests began to fall before the fire and axes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the majority of Ovenbirds retreated to the remaining forests of the western part of the state until the widespread agricultural period was over. As large areas of contiguous mature forest have gradually returned, Ovenbirds have been quick to recolonize them.


Ovenbirds build their oven-shaped nests in mature forests.

Ovenbird nest

Trend in Massachusetts

Like the Prairie Warbler we posted about last week, the Ovenbird is what we refer to as a “whispering bird”, because it’s breeding footprint in Massachusetts (according to our Breeding Bird Atlas 2) is stable or increasing, but the Breeding Bird Survey is showing significant declines for the species in the state.

Fun Fact

Ovenbirds will often sing together with their neighbors, though they do not sing as a chorus. One male will sing, followed shortly thereafter by another male without overlap between the two. They may repeat their successive songs up to 40 times.

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Meet the Prairie Warbler

© Joel Eckerson

 “The handsome little Prairie Warbler is remarkable only for its song. Dr. Elliott Coues likens this to the ‘plaint of a mouse with a toothache,’ because of its thin wiry quality.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Natives of more western states than Massachusetts might scoff at the scrubby clearings that we Easterners call “prairies,” but such areas provide perfect habitat for the Prairie Warbler. This species abhors forests, and breeds in shrubby clearings and only the most open woodlands. Both human-caused and natural disturbances have created plenty of Prairie Warbler breeding habitat in the Commonwealth over the past several centuries. However, as forests reassert themselves, Prairie Warblers stand to lose habitat as a result of this natural succession.

Though Forbush complimented the Prairie Warbler only on its song, our own Wayne Petersen, Director of Important Bird Areas, favors this “spectacled” warbler for both its song and its looks.

In addition, Wayne believes that the Prairie Warbler is a good “signature” bird for Massachusetts because we have some outstanding habitat for it on Cape Cod, in southeastern Massachusetts, and along many powerlines throughout the state.


The Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) breeds in early successional habitats in the eastern U.S.

Trend in Massachusetts

The Prairie Warbler is what we refer to as a “whispering bird”, because it’s breeding footprint in Massachusetts (according to our Breeding Bird Atlas 2) is stable or increasing, but the Breeding Bird Survey is showing significant declines for the species in the state.

Did you know? 

Male Prairie Warblers sing two different—though similar-sounding—songs during the breeding season. He sings one song, the faster of the two, to serenade his mate in courtship and strengthen their pair bond. The other, he sings to declare to other rivaling males that his territory is claimed.

Warbler of the Week

Hi all,

In anticipation of our warbler-themed Birders Meeting, we’ll be posting about a featured warbler species every week.

This week’s warbler is…

© Davey Walters


Black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia)

In the last days of April or in early May, when the buds on deciduous trees are swelling and when tiny, light green leaflets appear on the shrubbery, in sheltered sunny spots we may find a little black and white striped bird hopping along the lower limbs in the woodlands, turning this way and that, searching over the branches from one side to the other, often head downward, closely scanning the bark, silently gleaning the insect enemies of the trees. This is the Black and White Warbler.” – Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

Breeding habitat: partially open mature or second-growth hardwood and mixed forests.

Most warblers are in constant motion, hopping from branch to branch in their search for invertebrates to eat, which makes identifying many species by their behavior alone usually quite difficult. The black-and-white warbler stands apart from its fellows since it forages by creeping along the bark and larger branches of trees, much like a nuthatch. Although the black-and-white warbler remains widespread in Massachusetts, it is beginning to show the first signs of decline. Check out our Breeding Bird Atlas 2 account for more information on this warbler in MA.

The biggest threat to black-and-white warblers is fragmentation of its forested habitat. When forest patches become more and more fragmented there is increased incidence of “edge effects” such as increased chance of predation, brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird, and disturbance. “As nocturnal migrants, Black-and-white Warblers are a frequent victim of collisions with glass, towers, and wind turbines; as insectivores, they are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning.” (American Bird Conservancy)