Warblers – active, brightly-colored songbirds – are popular birds for birders to look for every spring. Unfortunately, these small but beautiful birds eat primarily insects and are not as likely to regularly visit backyard bird feeders as many other spring migrants. Birders who know how to find warblers, however, can easily spot a dozen or more species in a day of good spring birding.
There are more than 50 species of warblers that can be seen in North America, and there are hundreds of warbler species around the world. The great diversity of these birds makes them very attractive to birders, and their brightly colored, beautiful plumage and distinctive songs are often welcome after long, drab winters. Finding warblers, however, can be a challenge even for experienced birders.
Where, When and How to Find Warblers
Because warblers are not frequent backyard birds, birders who want to see many different warbler species each spring need to know how to find these colorful birds.
The first step in successfully birding for warblers is to know where to look. These are insect-eating birds, and they hunt by flitting from a perch to catch and insect and quickly returning to the same perch. This behavior, called hawking, is characteristic of warblers, but they need the proper habitat to find the insects that make up their diet.
Popular places to look for warblers include:
- Just leafing trees and bushes
- Woodland edges
- Riparian areas with shrubby habitat
- Open woodland grounds with decaying material
While most warblers can be found in trees and shrubs, some warbler species are found lower and even on the ground. When birding, be sure to check all the vegetation levels: it is common to find several species of warbler in the same tree or small area, each one active at a different level.
Warblers can be found at any time of day, but they will be most active when insects are active just after sunrise, just before sundown or after a rainstorm. Birders who look for warblers at these times are more likely to be rewarded by seeing several species, particularly during the spring migration from late March through the end of May. It is important to note, however, that warblers will be much less active during periods of strong winds – the winds keep the insects from flying, and without that food source, the birds will be less active.
The easiest way to spot warblers is to watch for quick, active movements in the leaves of trees and shrubs combined with brief flashes of color from the birds’ brilliant plumages. Because warblers tend to use the same perch or same area of a tree for several minutes at a time, watching for movement allows birders to pinpoint where the birds are most active. Even if the bird is hidden by leaves, patient watching will often lead to a good view as the bird hunts insects all around its perch.
Another great way to locate warblers is by sound. Birders who are able to bird by ear can easily learn warblers’ unique songs – few of which have actual warbling notes – and can use those songs to locate the birds. Many warblers will perch in the open to sing as part of courtship behavior or territorial displays, and birders with a keen ear will easily find the birds.
Warblers in the Backyard
While most warblers are only rare visitors to backyards, there are ways to encourage these beautiful birds to become frequent guests. Offering mealworms and suet as supplemental food sources can be successful, and birders should avoid spraying insecticides or pesticides that would remove the birds’ preferred food sources. Even if warblers aren’t interested in the feeders, an active birdbath can attract different species, particularly with moving water such as a dripper or bubbler. Offering nesting material can encourage these birds to nest nearby, ensuring that they take advantage of supplemental food and water all summer long.
Spring is warbler season for many birders, and knowing where, when and how to find warblers can help both novice and experienced birders add a wide range of warbler species to their life lists every year.
Photo – Yellow-Throated Warbler © hart_curt