Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sycamore Warbler

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

There's a male yellow-throated warbler singing from the sycamore tree outside my office window right now. These dudes are known to wander around in mid-summer—often venturing far from their nesting territory, and I'm always happy to hear them. This also happens each summer out at our farm: the post-breeding males show up in our one big sycamore tree and proceed to explore the sycamore, then our feeders, our stone chimney, the willow tree. One August morning I had an adult male YTWA climb up the leg of my spotting scope's tripod! He seemed intent on exploring and was unfazed by the large, grinning mammal (me) standing right next to him.

When I was a teenage birder (which sounds like a movie title) I knew this species as the sycamore warbler. Around these parts (southeastern Ohio) most of our breeding yellow-throated warblers are found in sycamores along rivers and streams. Nature has it all figured out. The sycamores love being near the water and the warblers love being in the sycamores.

Marietta, Ohio, where I work at Bird Watcher's Digest, is a river town, built at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. With these two waterways and scores of other streams, creeks, and runs, we're blessed with an abundance of sycamore trees. Some folks dislike the sycamore, which is somewhat understandable. It can be a messy tree, if you worry about things like keeping your sidewalk, lawn, or car clean. Sycamores drop their flaky bark year-round. They drop branches and sticks like a furry dog sheds. They drop their sycamore seed balls and tons of pollen in the spring, and they drop their giant leaves in the fall.

The sycamore that lives outside my office window.

But I love the sycamore. The big one right outside my office window shades our building all summer long and is a bird magnet, letting me see nesting Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, Baltimore orioles, American robins, white-breasted nuthatches, and roosting common nighthawks. The bird list for the sycamore even includes things like indigo bunting, rose-breasted grosbeak, at least a dozen warbler species, and the lone merlin I've ever seen at BWD.

Yellow-throated warblers return early in the spring to our part of the world, often being our third or fourth warbler species to arrive in spring migration, just after the pine warbler, the Louisiana waterthrush, and the ovenbird. My guess is that the yellow-throated's foraging method is what allows it to come back so early—long before there's consistent warm weather and insect avalability. Watch a YTWA and you'll see that it often gleans the bark of trees, much like a nuthatch or creeper—or another tree gleaning warbler, the black-and-white.

It's often the yellow-throated's song that tips us off to their presence: Tee-yew, tee-yi, tee-yi, tee-yi, tee-yew, tee-yeet! The song cascades downward in pitch as the bird sings from the treetops, until the last note, which often rises upward, almost as if it's ending the song with a question.

And that's how I discovered today's post-breeding wanderer in the sycamore outside my office window, far from any water. He sang five times in a row. I hope he'll stay a spell, but I'm sure he's just a-ramblin' around. Nice to hear him, though, and to be reminded of this species that seems to love sycamore trees as much as I do.


On July 5, 2011 at 2:07 PM The Mad Jester said...

Interesting.... I do believe we had one of these fellows, "shacked up" in the backyard up until a few weeks ago.....Wish I would taken a snapshot for future reference... Thanks BIII

C. Jay

On July 5, 2011 at 3:10 PM Nate said...

In the south we associate these guys with pine trees. They're the second spring warbler to arrive, after the LA Waterthrushes, and I can hear them singing in the highest branches of the Loblollies.

Always near water, though. That part stays the same.

On July 6, 2011 at 11:50 AM OpposableChums said...

Great shot of the bird, but the baseball bat in the corner of the second pic makes me wonder exactly how benevolent an employer you really are.

On July 6, 2011 at 2:06 PM Bill of the Birds said...


You got me! I'm the Buford Pusser of the bird world!

On July 7, 2011 at 10:41 PM Chatterbids said...

Nice post showing that connection between Sycamores and Yellow-throated Warblers. When I lived in central Illinois, these beautiful warblers were a rare migrant. Even then, I only ever saw them in Sycamores!