Monday, October 8, 2012

Worm-eating Warbler: Subtle Beauty

Monday, October 8, 2012
 I've always thought that the worm-eating warbler is our most subtly beautiful wood warbler. There's something earthy and attractive about those warm tans and browns set off by an olive back. And the pink legs and feet hardly seem out of place—perhaps they are just a way of accessorizing with a bit of bright color.

 It's the head stripes, though, that really strike me as lovely: black against ochre—simple yet so refined. Look in any color-chip book for a fancy-pants line of interior paint and you'll see the colors of the worm-eating warbler. Probably all on the same page, listed as suggestions by the taste masters for the would-be home decorator. I'd like to decorate a room in these tones. But it would have to be a room that had an aura of the deep woods, for that is where this creature lives.

 On our farm the worm-eating warblers spend spring and summer in the deep shady darkness of our two wooded valleys, rarely coming to the top of the ridge where our house is. No, if we hope to see them we must go to them. Finding them is not easy. They lead lives as subtle as their plumage.

If their colors do not impress with bright hues, the song of the male is even less attention-grabbing. It is a long, dry trill that could be passed off as a cicada or a tree cricket. More commonly it is passed off as one of the sound-alike members of the avian tribe for it is confusingly similar to the chipping sparrow, the pine warbler, and even the dark-eyed junco.

I saw what I suspect will be my last worm-eating warbler of the year two weeks ago, passing through the Aunt Lolly lilac along the north wall of our house. Fall is when the woodland birds come up to the ridge top to forage, and perhaps to squint at the sun that they've hidden from during the nesting months. We call it hill topping. They call it trying to live their lives—if they call it anything at all.

And speaking of words we use to describe things, the name worm-eating is quite a misnomer. The worm-eating warbler eats caterpillars, spiders, and other small arthropods. Perhaps an early ornithologist saw a worm-eating warbler eating a slug (which they do) and thought it was a worm, and yet another warbler was inaccurately named (see palm, magnolia, Cape May, Connecticut, Nashville, and Tennessee warblers).

No matter. The worm-eating warbler, to my eye, is our most subtly beautiful warbler in North America. I'll happily take retorts and rejoinders to this statement in the comments section.


On October 8, 2012 at 6:23 PM Corey Husic said...

Agreed. The Worm-eating Warbler has long been my favorite warbler. This past spring, I spent countless hours sitting on a hillside on my property watching a male sing from his grapevine perch down the slope--his body shaking with every buzzy trill. So cool!

On October 9, 2012 at 8:56 AM Julie Stone said...

Damn, I can barely manage to get my binoculars focused on one long enough to get a decent look, and you've managed to snap off pictures of one!

They are indeed beautiful, seeing those stripes always gives me a jolt, similar to seeing my first golden crowned kinglet of each season.

On October 10, 2012 at 10:36 PM Anonymous said...

I recall reading that caterpillars were once called worms, hence the name of this beauty.

On October 12, 2012 at 11:47 AM Pat ODonnell said...

How cool to have Worm-eating Warblers near your house! While growing up in western New York, I was just out of range of this tantalizing species and always hoped to find an overshooting vagrant during Spring migration. That never happened but I eventually caught up with them in other places.

On October 15, 2012 at 3:12 PM Sam Brunson said...

Worm-eating Warblers are one of my favorite warblers too! Haven't seen one this fall but still hoping to!

On October 16, 2012 at 12:25 PM jacobmontereal said...

Wow! Its too cute and wonderful. I wish I can see video of this on your post.

Jacob of bird watching Philippines

On November 5, 2012 at 10:55 AM KAT said...

Always been amased at creation, but just started with birding and taking pictures. It is truly amazing!

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