Migration Mania Series #1: Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler at Magee Marsh during migration
Blackburnian Warbler at Magee Marsh during migration

I know my blog audience is made up of many types of people — birders & non-birders, HSPs, and general nature lovers — and I hope that I usually balance the topics enough for all of you to find something interesting here. Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for years will know that spring is extra special for me because of the excitement of migration. So I hope the non-birders will be patient in the coming weeks as there’s more bird talk than usual. In the next five weeks leading up to the Biggest Week in American Birding, I’ll be doing a mini-series of posts I’m calling “Migration Mania,” in which I plan to tell you  a little bit about some of our migrating birds and hopefully convey why they’re so much fun to watch. And be forewarned, I have a mission to get everyone excited about birds eventually. (I get a huge thrill when someone tells me they’ve started paying more attention to birds after reading my writing about them, something that has been happening more often recently.)

So to get us started, I offer you the first installment: The Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler in Tawas, MI
Blackburnian Warbler in Tawas, MI

Warblers are the stars of spring migration and one of the reasons I fell in love with birds; therefore I  have to start with my favorite of all the warblers, Setophaga fusca, the Blackburnian Warbler. This tiny little bird is the only warbler on our continent to have an orange throat, allowing him to stand out even among a family of birds with so many other brightly-colored members. (The predominant color among warblers seems to be yellow.)

Warblers are very small birds, usually around 4-5″ (10-12 cm) long and weighing less than a half ounce (14 grams). Most of them spend the winters in Central and South America and then migrate to their summer breeding grounds in the northern US and Canada (see range map below). So imagine this: you weigh less than one ounce, are 5″ long, and you have to fly a couple thousand miles. Twice a year. Solely powered by the energy your little body can generate. That fact alone should give you a much bigger appreciation for these amazing little birds.

Range Map of Blackburnian Warbler
Range Map of Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warblers breed in the eastern part of the northern US and southern Canada. On their breeding grounds, they spend their time way up at the tippy tops of the trees, but during migration they often come down nearer to ground level so we can see them in their beautiful breeding plumage. Honestly, I think they know how pretty they are, and that’s why they come down to the Magee Marsh boardwalk — to show off for us.

The Blackburnian Warbler spends its winters in the forests of the Andes, mostly from Venezuela to Peru.  In early April it migrates northward around the Gulf Coast. I checked eBird today to see where the Blackburnians are right now, and I see that most of the reports are from Costa Rica and Columbia. But interestingly, there was a report from Brevard, Florida a couple weeks ago, so they’re definitely heading north now. (Well, at least one of them is!) Here’s a link to the map if you’re curious. (And just as I was preparing this post, Greg Miller posted links to the eBird maps for all the warbler species on his blog, here.)

I can’t wait to get my first glimpse of a bright orange flash in the trees this year. The anticipation of that thrill is almost as good as the actual moment I first get my binoculars focused on one of these little feathered gems. It’s a challenge to  find them and then keep your eyes on them — they move quickly through the branches grabbing insects from the undersides of the new leaves — and I always have sore shoulders after a day of watching warblers. But it’s SO worth it.