By Pat Pepper
In my first column for this newsletter, I talked about being a little down because all the lovely fall migrant warblers had passed through Georgia on their way to Mexico and Central and South America. Now here it is, 5 mos. later, and they’re back! Shakespeare may have thought April was the cruelest month, but here in Georgia, for birders, it is the sweetest period.
Every day new species of warblers arrive. These intrepid little birds must fly at night to escape larger predators, and they must travel over the Gulf of Mexico without stopping. Arriving on our southern shores, they are very tired and very hungry. Warblers mainly eat insects, seeds, & fruit.
Many of you take great comfort in the cyclic phenomena of nature. Smith-Gilbert is a great testament to those cycles; the roses, irises, azaleas, et al are in their glory assuring us they are not dead. Every day right now I look out at my own feeders to see who has returned to visit me. Some will only stay a few days, taking on more body fat in order to continue their journeys north; others will stay here in Georgia all summer.
As I birded the Garden April 3rd in the late afternoon, the warbler in most abundance was the yellow-rump. Sometimes he is affectionately called a “butter butt” by birders, although you will not find this name in any field guide. If you look at the first picture at the top, you will easily see how this nickname came about. This bird used to be considered two different species: Myrtle Warbler in the East and Audubon’s Warbler in the West, but now it is just a yellow rump. If I were a yellow-rump, I would have objected to this change. Myrtle and Audubon’s are much more dignified.
The pecan tree behind the Hiram Butler House, and the pecan in front of the carriage house had the most yellow-rumps. Warblers will not stay still for you to get a good view of them. You have to catch them eating an insect in order to look at them properly. They are the HD kids of the bird world. They also like to feed at the very tops of trees, so watching warblers will give you an unpleasant condition birders call “warbler neck.”
I did see some, however, in a small bush to the right of the carriage house pecan toward the back parking lot.
It is possible to see some of these birds in Georgia in the winter as they all don’t migrate further south. At 5.5 inches, the yellow rump is a rather large, long-tailed warbler. You will often see them in large flocks. On April 10 I was birding with four other birders on Kennesaw Mt. when just about every 3rd bird we saw was a yellow-rump.
Most of our yellow-rumps will be moving north soon. They like to spend their summers mostly in Canada and Alaska. Usually by the end of the second week in May, most of the warblers we are seeing right now and will see in the next few weeks will be gone. Spring is the more exciting of the two seasonal migrations because the males are in their beautiful breeding plumage, and they are singing trying to attract mates.
This is the link to the yellow-rump’s song: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-rumpedWarbler/id
One of the most hopeful lines of poetry ever written in Western literature comes from “Ode to the West Wind” by Percy Bysshe Shelley: “O Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Shelley understood the cyclic nature of our world and drew comfort from it. So should we.
Please note: Pat Pepper leads the “Bird Watching” class on the first Tuesday (5:30-7:30pm) and second Saturday (8-10am) of each month. Click here to register.